I woke up with a terrible headache this morning. It has been a long time since I felt such pain.I contemplated taking a half day off, but as I have an important meeting this morning, I decided to go to work. But by the time I got to my office, I still felt horrible… I decided to ask my colleague to help me handle the meeting.My phone rang. It’s my friend B. “Have you heard the bad news?”I was sitting down at my table, with my head resting on the table. I did not know what to expect.”Sunil just passed away.””Oh my gosh! You are kidding! What happened?””He had a heart attack last night, in Poland.””Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it! How old is he? He’s so young!””He’s 54. Doesn’t look his age at all right?”We both did not know what else to say… there was nothing left to say… after saying our good-byes, we put down the phone.B told me that this piece of news was in Straits Times, but I did not manage to locate it. Did a search on Google News, but did not manage to find anything… but I managed to find this other article instead…

Citibank Takes Its Pulse With Staff Lunches

By Shu Shin Luh
From The Asian Wall Street Journal

SINGAPORE — Faced with the twin perils of low morale and fleeing employees, Citibank reacted as would many big banks: it planned a little lunch.

Meet the host: Sunil Sreenivasan, a radical in pinstripes who heads the corporate bank in Singapore, a position he previously held in Malaysia.

Introduced more than five years ago, his “pulse lunch” program has resulted in lower staff turnover. It illustrates how a thoughtful manager can create a workable solution for seemingly intractable and expensive problems. The weekly bill of fare is simple: managers listen to employee concerns — taking their pulse — then act on the concerns.

I read the article, and I broke down and cry.

Sunil Sreenivasan, ex-CCO (Citigroup Country Officer) of Citigroup Malaysia and Singapore, and before passing on, Citibank’s regional head of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland… he was known simply as Sunil to his staff. And that’s how he wanted it. Not Mr. Sunil, or Mr. Sreenivasan, simply… Sunil.

I started my first job in Citigroup Singapore as a Management Associate (MA). I remember my first meeting with Sunil. It was at one of the breakfasts that he held for the MAs. He looked more like a Bollywood movie star than a banker. He’s tall, he’s always dressed in these well-pressed, pin-striped suits. His hair is always in place, and when he walks into the room, every head will turn as his mere presence commands attention. And when he speaks, his voice is calm and measured. You will never hear him shout or raise his voice. He just needs to look at you with those intelligent eyes of his, you’ll know that it’s time to shut up.

I do not have that many personal encounters with Sunil, but I do remember every single one of the encounters that we had.

Every year during Chinese New Year, Sunil will take the effort to ‘make the rounds’. He would visit all the departments, whether it’s in the city or the operations centre in the suburban area to wish his employees “Happy Chinese New Year”. He will be walking together with the HR manager, who will tell him each and every person’s name when they drop by the individual cubicles, and he will give you your angpow and mandarin oranges personally.

When he walked to my cubicle, he came to me with my angpow and mandarin oranges, “Violet, here’s to wishing you and your family a prosperous New Year.”

That’s Sunil for you. He could be somewhere else making new deals, or playing golf with other CEOS, but he believes that employees satisfaction drives customer satisfaction, which drives bottom line. And he walks the talk.

After being in the MA program for awhile, both my MA advisor and I agreed that I am not cut out for finance. It was time to move on. During his time, Sunil did each and every exit interview for the corporate bank’s employees. I was sitting outside his office, waiting to see him, I did not know what to think.

His secretary finally said, “Violet, he’s ready to see you.”

I walked in to his spick and span office. Sunil believes in the paperless office environment. Hence, all you see on his table is his PC. He was in one of his signature white shirts, and black pants.

He talked to me, about my future. He asked if I still wanted to stay on with the bank. He asked me what areas I would want to explore if finance is not my cup of tea. Imagine this, here we have a man who has 3500 staff under him, and he’s interested to find out more about what I want to be and where I want to go.

I told him I was interested in HR, as there’s what I majored in for my Masters. He told me that he would find me a new posting. I wasn’t sure whether to believe him. As I was a mere 1 in 3500.

Sure enough, I was posted to HR, and I spent the next year rotating in HR learning about various functions, before I left to start my own business.

I have always meant to thank him. Maybe send him a Christmas card when he was in Poland. But I just never got round to it. And now, it’s just too late.

I learnt so much from him. He is a man of his words. He is a man who cares about his employees. He is a man who walks the talk.

When he left Singapore, it’s as if he took part of it away with him. I felt the bank never felt the same anymore. But it is a comforting thought that he was bringing his great inspiration to the rest of the world.

After settling down in Poland, the first thing he did was to send the Head of HR to Singapore to learn how to set up the HR Call Centre. Imagine! We have a special hot line to call if we the employees have any issues!

His legacy I believe is in people management… to be the kind of manager that he has been to rest of us. A manager who takes the time to care…

Goodbye Sunil. Thank you for the inspiration. We will miss you.

Post Note: Jamie said… even though Sunil died at what I would call a premature age, but he has lived a full life. He has actually made an impact in so many people’s lives. My friend B (who broke the news to me) is also an ex-Citibanker. Two ex-Citibankers who are so affected by his death. Jamie said he would not be terribly affected if he heard that the CEO of his ex-company (also a bank) passed away, because he does not know him at all. And I guess that’s true.

Sunil has touched so many people’s lives, and because of him I will always remember: in all my dealings… to be on the ground, stay in touch with your people, as a true leader is someone who serves others and not be served by others.

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