I was busy conducting a training class when that important (even life changing) call came.
It was from a colleague and a very close friend. But I couldn’t pick the call as I was teaching and it’s not professional to stop the class in between and waste everybody’s time. So I disconnected the call and continued my class.
After few seconds he called again. There must be something very important. I apologized to my students and picked the call.
Immediately my friend started bursting out. ‘Listen, we lost XYZ contract.’
Of course XYZ is not a real company. I am purposefully hiding its identity to avoid unnecessary trouble.
XYZ was (and is) a very big organization. Couple of years back they chose our company for one of their important software implementations.
It was a big project which promised us a good cash flow for many months. But more importantly, we were proud of being part of an engagement that is going to touch thousands of Indians and possibly change their lives.
So we did a fantastic design, developed a great application with many interesting features, deployed it and were maintaining it successfully. That’s when, all of a sudden XYZ decided to throw us out and award the maintenance contract to someone else.
Of course we can’t claim perpetual rights at XYZ. But when they pick someone else, it must be fair. They should give a good reason and they must give us a chance to remain there by matching the other company’s rates or quality level or whatever else.
But none of that happened here. They just asked us to leave and that’s it.
We were not ready to give up that easily. My boss spoke to some senior officials there to find out what went wrong. After lot of James bond stuff he found the real reason. It seems they decided not to renew our contract because we were not paying those officers any bribe.
Our organization was not big. But in our relatively small existence, no customer demanded illegal bribes to award any projects. Even XYZ gave us this contract because of our talent and expertise, not because we greased their palms.
But after that some senior officials changed there and the new team was corrupt. They took money from someone else and switched our contract to them. When we heard about this unofficially those people tried to console(?) us by giving a new option. ‘We are starting a new project now. If you pay us some money we will recommend you for this contract.’
Now we were in a serious confusion. Should we pay these corrupt folks and get a back door entry to this project? Or walk out?
Business-wise the decision was an easy one. This new project was as big as the previous one, if not bigger. We would make lot of money through this and it makes sense for us to consider this bribe as an investment.
On the other hand it will be totally unethical. This dishonest act will come back and haunt us for the rest of our lives.
So we were divided. Some senior managers told it will be foolish to let go this opportunity. After all, everyone does it and why not us?
Another group of managers felt we should say a firm ‘No’. ‘We don’t need that dirty money’ they argued.
As we couldn’t come to a conclusion the decision went to our boss. He thought for many minutes and made one statement which I would never forget: ‘If we refuse to pay this bribe that may be the end of our relationship with XYZ account. We will lose a contract that we deserve and any future business possibilities from them. But that’s okay; I feel we must be ethically right, even if it sounds like a risk!’
So we walked out of XYZ account. The new contract was awarded to the same company which took our old project. It gave us real heart-burn. Sometimes we even felt our boss took an unrealistic decision. It seemed to us gods don’t have time to perform miracles and punish bribe payers or receivers.
After many months when we almost forgot about this whole episode, XYZ was on news, this time for wrong reasons.
Looks like the promoters of that company heard about this scam in awarding software projects and did a complete audit, investigation. They found all bad apples and made arrangements to take legal proceedings against them. They cancelled all project allotments in the disputed period and released fresh bids for them.
As a result, we got our old contract and couple of more projects without paying a rupee as bribe. In a country like India this is indeed a miracle and on retrospect now we all feel happy and proud that we didn’t go the easy, dishonest way.
Oh boy, who knew doing things the right way could be considered a risk 🙂
On a lighter note, Boys in this Mountain Dew (https://www.facebook.com/mountaindewindia) Video (in Tamil) are taking a different kind of risk, and getting good results 🙂