A leader’s job, says Chanda Kochhar, MD and CEO, ICICI Bank, is to be a step ahead of competition by thinking ahead of the game, even as she herself gets down to the task of giving shape to her legacy — propel the bank into the league of the world’s top 20 banks by size — within her tenure. Excerpts:
What is the role of a leader in a process-driven sector like financial services?
Financial services industry is not only process-oriented, it doesn’t lack innovation. In such a case, you have even more scope, because the job of a leader is to differentiate one’s organisation from the rest in the same industry.
So how have you differentiated your organisation from your competitors?
If you track ICICI’s history and look at it currently, you will see that we have always said that the organisation should remain ahead of the curve in terms of anticipating the change in the environment and being ready for the change. So as a leader I would look at the next set of changes that are likely to happen and set a vision and a direction for the organisation in the context of that environment that is likely to emerge, and not just the environment that is prevailing.
What is the next big game changer that you envision as a leader, to set ICICI Bank apart from the competition?
We are focusing currently on setting up a very sustainable, profitable model of growth. For ICICI it is partly a game changer because after reaching the scale and size if we set the company on a sustainable and profitable model, it can have a huge multiplier effect on the profitability of the company.
How have you implemented the learning from your mentor KV Kamath in your own style of leadership?
I think as any leader evolves, he/she absorbs a lot from mentors and the persons he/she works with and what emerges finally is his or her own style of leadership. I would say in my style of leadership, I have learnt from my mentors, but it would be difficult to say what part is learnt and what part is my own.
What is your leadership philosophy?
I believe a leader really sets the direction and vision for the organisation and then aligns his/her team to move on that path. So in that sense what is actually required of a leader is a balance between vision and execution, dreaming and at the same time being close to reality. You keep looking at the big picture, prepare your organisation for that big picture but as you do that, two things become very important — one is that your team has to be fully aligned to move in that direction, and secondly, as you keep moving, you have to keep coming back to reality and keep doing a reality check to see if the direction is correct.
Any examples of course corrections from your own career?
In hindsight, we probably grew our unsecured retail loan business much faster than the ability of the market to absorb that growth. We expected the market to evolve in a certain manner, both in terms of the credit culture of the individual, growth in the credit scoring models etc, which actually did not happen. In the bargain, our growth was much larger than it was warranted. The way we really course corrected was we actually we cut down the size of the unsecured retail loan business which in fact meant that for one year, in total terms, our loans and advances actually decreased by 17%. Forget growing in a year, we actually cut back our balance sheet. So it was not an easy decision at all — it was a tough decision.
How do you motivate yourself as a leader everyday?
Well, as I always say what will give me the biggest high is if we are in the global top 20.
Within the next 10 years?
It has to be much less than that actually.
Within your own tenure?
Yes, of course
So that’s what drives you?