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New face, new challenges

There’s a bigger challenge that awaits Chanda Kochhar, named the new Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ICICI Bank, than steering the country’s second-largest bank through the economic woes, reports Rajendra Palande.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2008 20:39 IST
Rajendra Palande

There’s a bigger challenge that awaits Chanda Kochhar, named the new Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ICICI Bank, than steering the country’s second-largest bank through the economic woes.

Kundapur Vaman Kamath, the incumbent chief executive who retires from executive responsibilities at the end of April 2009, was an overpowering personality at the development-finance-lender-turned-bank. Kochhar’s leadership qualities will be put to test as she gets down to bind into a cohesive force the top executive management at the bank group.

The top executives include her peers who also have the ambitions of making it big. Shikha Sharma, the managing director of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, was her most immediate competitor to head the financial services group. The others are the three Executive Directors — V Vaidyanathan (in charge of retail banking), Madhabi Puri-Buch (oversees risk management) and Sonjoy Chatterjee (head of corporate banking and international operations).

Kochhar has more than four months to knit together the top management, before she assumes charge as the chief executive from May 1, 2009. Kamath’s presence, and hopefully guidance, will help her in ensuring her top management colleagues get enough room to give vent to their ambitions.

The immediate task done, she will have to plan out strategies to spearhead and then take on the high growth path again the financial services group, spawned by the towering Kamath who had become synonymous with ICICI Bank.

The other big challenge for Kochhar will be about working towards changing the widespread perception that the bank is a high-risk financial services player. Certainly, continuing to make enough profits to withstand the higher and possibly, rising loan defaults.

The announcement of the appointment comes in a year that saw ICICI Bank on the brink of facing a run on its deposits, following revelations that its international operations had the largest losses among Indian banks linked to the global financial crisis. Kochhar is also credited with building the bank’s retail lending business, where loan assets grew 20 times since 2000.

Kochhar is obviously aware of the challenges ahead. “One should not take challenge as a scare. Leadership capabilities and strength of an organization are best tested in challenging times,” is her response.