Chanda Kochhar: The CEO who rose through the ranks at ICICI

Before the story of Chanda’s conflict of interest and quid pro quo broke, pressure had also started building with the divergence in its numbers following the asset quality review by the RBI and build up of bad loans.

Written by George Mathew | Mumbai | Updated: October 5, 2018 11:35:25 am
Justice Srikrishna to head probe panel to look into allegations against Chanda Kochhar CEO and MD of ICICI Bank Chanda Kochhar. (Reuters file photo)

In the late ’70s, Chanda Kochhar nee Advani, a young girl from Jaipur, landed in Mumbai and secured admission in Jai Hind College to pursue commerce studies. The young girl went on to obtaining an MMS degree (Masters in Management Studies) from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and joined Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI), then a development financial institution which was eventually converted into a commercial bank in 1993.

Kochhar had a trail-blazing career in the bank: From a salary of Rs 2,300 per month when she joined in 1984, Kochhar — who was under a cloud after allegations of nepotism regarding loans approved to the Videocon group and the investment by Venugopal Dhoot in her husband’s company NuPower Renewables — took home a pay packet of Rs 7.8 crore in 2016-17 including a performance bonus of Rs 2.2 crore as the MD and CEO of ICICI Bank.

HERE IS THE INDIAN EXPRESS INVESTIGATION THAT UNEARTHED THE CONFLICT OF INTEREST.

She met her future husband Deepak Kochhar at Jamnalal Bajaj and the latter proposed after completing MMS. After joining ICICI, Chanda Kochhar climbed the ladder steadily and went on to become the MD and CEO in May 2009. In ICICI, she had the fortune and luck to be guided and work closely with two financial sector stalwarts — N Vaghul and K V Kamath — in the early days. She started working with ICICI when Vaghul left as Bank of India chairman and became the chairman and MD of ICICI. Chanda was among nearly a dozen officers who were able to sharpen their skills and prepare for a long haul in leadership roles. Kamath — who was the group head of the leasing and strategy division of erstwhile ICICI when Kochhar joined in 1984 — who succeeded Vaghul as the MD and CEO nurtured the career prospects of many of them including Chanda Kochhar.

In 1993, when ICICI converted into a commercial bank, Kochhar was positioned for a key role in the new retail banking business and worked in almost all the departments and rose through the ranks. She also went on to heading the infrastructure finance and corporate banking business at the bank.

In 2000, she took on the challenge of building the nascent retail business, focusing on technology, innovation, process re-engineering and scaling up of distribution and taking the bank to a leadership position in this business.

During 2006-2007, Kochhar led the bank’s corporate and international banking businesses marked by heightened activity and global expansion by Indian companies. From 2007 to 2009, she was the joint managing director & chief financial officer of the bank. This was a critical period which saw rapid change in the financial landscape and the global financial crisis hit Indian banking as well. There was a run on ICICI Bank branches in some parts of the country in the last week of September 2008.

Kochhar’s elevation as the managing director & CEO of ICICI Bank came in 2009 and since then, she has been responsible for the bank’s diverse operations in India and overseas. And over the next few years in almost close to a decade, she was the only face of the bank — figuring at the high table — when visiting heads of government came to the country and being seen a prominent presence at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

It was smooth going for Kochhar and the bank from 2010 to 2014. She also was conferred the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honours, in 2011. She was also featured in ‘The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’ list by Forbes International for seven consecutive years and also named among TIME magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the world’ in 2015 and projected in the media as an inspiring figure for young women professionals for breaking the glass ceiling.

The tide began turning in 2014. The problem of bad loans started impacting Indian banks. Gross NPAs which were Rs 10,448 crore in December 2013 jumped four times in three years to Rs 46,038 crore as at the end of December 2017, raising questions about the quality of due diligence and loan appraisals of the bank.

Before the story of Chanda’s conflict of interest and quid pro quo broke, pressure had also started building with the divergence in its numbers following the asset quality review by the RBI and build up of bad loans.

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