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Can Vikram Akula do a Jobs with SKS?

Last updated on: November 15, 2012 12:53 IST

Can Vikram Akula do a Jobs with SKS?

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Santosh Tiwari in New Delhi

His former colleagues might have succeeded in pushing him out of microfinance, but it is difficult to push microfinance out of him.

SKS Microfinance Ltd, the company Vikram Akula conceived, built and took to heights of stock-market glory and then to its painful depths, all in a little over a decade, still lies in his heart, an unceremonious exit a year ago notwithstanding.

The storyline pretty much resembles that of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who was fired from the company in 1985.

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Image: Vikram Akula.


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Can Vikram Akula do a Jobs with SKS?

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Jobs had described being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him as the heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.

His return to Apple in 1996 and what he did to the company since is the stuff of dreams.

Can Akula do a Steve Jobs and get the beleaguered microlender back to its peaks? Rule it out at your own peril.

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Image: Steve Jobs.
Photographs: Reuters.

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Can Vikram Akula do a Jobs with SKS?

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Akula, now running an agricultural research and application firm called AgSri, was seen at the World Economic Forum India event last week, and is visibly in a state of mind, similar to that of Apple-less Jobs.

Akula said, though he had no plans to re-enter microfinance immediately, "right opportunity in the right context" would bring him back to the financial inclusion sector, which he says is his passion.

Of course, learning from past mistakes and applying them effectively is what he seems to be preparing for.

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Image: Akula giving money to a villager.


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Can Vikram Akula do a Jobs with SKS?

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On November 23, 2011, Akula, founder and chairman of the only listed microfinance institution, resigned from the board of SKS in the wake of huge losses suffered by the Hyderabad-based firm.

The company appointed P H Ravi Kumar, independent director, as the interim non-executive chairman. Akula remained a consultant to the company until the end of March 2012 to assist with the transition.

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Image: Vikram Akula.


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Can Vikram Akula do a Jobs with SKS?

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Currently, though out of SKS management, Akula hardly forgets his baby, which he nurtured to grow to a huge organisation from a humble beginning.

Ask him about SKS and he tells you, trying unsuccessfully to hide his eagerness, the existing management would take it to where it has to go and his job is to focus on other subjects.

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Image: Vikram Akula with villagers.


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Can Vikram Akula do a Jobs with SKS?

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The interesting part is that Akula is holding 0.84 per cent (906,734) shares in SKS according to the shareholding pattern filed with BSE at the end of the quarter ended September 30.

 

Quite similar to Jobs' experience, Akula also single-handedly influenced one of the world's largest microfinance markets in a major way.

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Image: Sonia Gandhi felicitating Vikram Akula.

Tags: Vikram Akula , SKS , BSE

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Akula's SKS experience and lessons learnt

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A candid account of what went wrong at SKS Microfinance during 2009-11 is in the offing.

Founder and former chairman of the company, Vikram Akula, told Santosh Tiwari in an interview he was working on his new book, which would focus on his SKS experience and lessons learnt. Edited excerpts:

How is life after SKS?

I am keeping busy. I am an investor in a new agricultural company, working on a strict routine. I also interact with other social enterprises and mentor (them). Though not actively involved in microfinance, I am keeping active in social enterprises more broadly.

Looking back, what would be your view on the whole issue?

Clearly, the microfinance sector has gone through tremendous challenges. But part of it obviously is due to their hyper growth and the problems associated with that.

One thing that's clear is that despite the challenges, microfinance will come back. Because, at the end of the day, low-income people in our country need access to finance and they need a good form of access to finance.

If anything, I think, the crisis has taught microfinance leaders, that you need to do this in a responsible way - high quality and transparent services to customers. Eventually, they (the industry) will come out of this challenge and come out stronger in providing high quality services.

Would you like to come back?

Financial inclusion obviously is my life's work and I will always be passionate about it. The time is not now for me to come back but perhaps in the future, in the right opportunity in the right context, of course, I am very passionate about the subject.

And SKS is always there on your mind...

Well, you know, as the founder of SKS, my heart is very much there. But there is an existing management team and existing board and it's their mandate to take that organisation to where it is going to go and my mandate is now to focus on other subjects.

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Image: Vikram Akula.
Photographs: Reuters.

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Akula's SKS experience and lessons learnt

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Given your previous experience, what are the two critical things that you would like to see happening before you return to microfinance?

I am actually working on my next book, which is going to talk a little bit about my experiences in the last couple of years at SKS.

One thing that became very important to me is the importance of building culture when you scale up. It's easy to have a good and strong culture when you have a small organisation, but the challenge of how you do that when you have 25,000 staff, that is something which we need to think about proactively as social entrepreneurs.

May be in a business context, they will have experience of working at that scale and build culture. I think as social entrepreneurs that is the area which we need to focus on.

What needs to be done from the government or the regulation side?

I think, by definition, (it's) social enterprise, because we are working in new markets with the bottom of the pyramid, the base of the pyramid population. We need to go much farther than the regulators. The regulation will never catch up with us, because we are pioneers in our area.

As a result of that, our responsibility is much greater than that of a typical corporate, which can simply follow the regulation in their frame. We have to go beyond that and do beyond the regulation and then the regulator will catch up. I think that is the responsibility we have as social entrepreneurs.

So in terms of scaling up, are you happy with the way SKS is currently being run?

I won't comment on SKS, but I think the general industry focus is on client protection, high quality service to customers. I think that's a welcome change. So, I appreciate that.


Photographs: Courtesy, Agri Sri.
Tags: SKS , Akula

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