Man with a Midas touch

An important event in the Indian banking industry missed the fanfare and coverage that it merited. Aditya Puri, MD & CEO of HDFC Bank, one of the world’s most valuable companies, retired after an uninterrupted run of 26 years, a record of sorts.

He was heading Citibank Malaysia, when he was chosen to head this new generation private sector bank promoted primarily by HDFC. Though not on records, foresight and judgment of the doyen of the financial sector Deepak Parekh cannot be underplayed, who betted on this young foreign banker. And Aditya let down no one – HDFC, it’s other promoters, investors, including foreign institutional investors, customers, regulators, share market and above all Deepak Parekh himself, who must have been as satisfied a person as Aditya Puri himself would be.

Being in a peer new generation private sector, who also started his journey in this space around same time, I had the privilege of seeing HDFC Bank’s great strides under Aditya Puri from a close quarter. The Bank was all along growing well organically while keeping its eyes open for acquisition opportunities and in fact, acquired two peers – Times Bank first and then Centurion Bank of Punjab that itself had earlier merged Bank of Punjab into itself. This helped the Bank leave behind its other peers, becoming the second largest bank in the country behind the behemoth , SBI.

And the story is not all about growth and valuation. Acquiring numero uno position in almost all product segments, particularly by dislodging foreign banks in credit cards space, adds much sheen to the story. And behind all this was a rock solid Aditya Puri, in complete command and control.

His dislike for mobile and computer, need to ensure work life balance, cutting wasteful expenditure notwithstanding comfortable operating margins are the stuff folklores are made of and these things will be the topic for brainstorming in financial circles for long long time.

I had the opportunity of having his audience for a few moments aboard an international flight. While I was returning along with other colleagues from an official event held in Europe, Mr Puri was with his family returning after watching World Cup soccer final. The unassuming man was happy to see a large team from a peer organisation and wished all of us well. He came forth as an unassuming, simple and accessible person, who had taken all the success and fame in his stride.

While his successor will be stepping into his very large shoes, Mr Puri has set a benchmark for all future CEOs for such a heady mix of a strategist, administrator, leader, visionary and above all a fine human being all rolled into one is rare and extraordinary.

Have a great next innings sir! You deserve all that wealth, recognition, respect – such edifices of excellence right from a scratch don’t get built every day.

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