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Why Neeraj Sahai is a perfect fit for Standard & Poor's

November 30, 2013 08:42 IST

Why Neeraj Sahai is a perfect fit for Standard & Poor's

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BS Reporter

The world’s largest credit rating agency seems to have a particular fascination for top-drawer talent from India.

In just over two years since Jharkhand-born Deven Sharma quit as president, Standard & Poor’s has found another Indian - Citigroup’s old warhorse, Neeraj Sahai — for the post. Sharma and Sahai share another thing in common - both are huge chess enthusiasts.

Since chess is a lot about mind games, Sahai will have ample opportunity to showcase his skills as he will take the reins of S&P at a time when the company is fighting a civil fraud lawsuit filed by the US Justice Department which has accused it of inflating the ratings of mortgage bonds before the 2008 financial crisis. 

The move had come shortly after S&P downgraded the US credit rating, which drew much criticism from former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who said the decision showed a stunning lack of knowledge about basic US fiscal budget maths.

Many believed this to be the reason behind Sharma’s resignation, though S&P said the move had been underway before the downgrade announcement.

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Photographs: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

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Why Neeraj Sahai is a perfect fit for Standard & Poor's

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The challenge of leading an organisation in transition is perhaps something that has drawn Sahai to his new job. 

The Delhi School of Economics alumnus (he also has an MBA degree from Clarkson University in New York) has been working for Citigroup for 29 years now, joining as a management associate in India in 1984.

His rise has been stupendous, considering that he had become the global head of securities and fund services, which have remained a bright spot for the bank since the onset of the financial crisis. He was also acting as chief fiduciary officer of Citigroup.

For S&P, which publishes more than a million credit ratings on debt issued by sovereign, municipal, corporate and financial sector entities, Sahai is a perfect fit — a man who has significant experience serving global capital markets and has valuable insights in driving growth, as well as in risk control and governance

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Image: Neeraj Sahai
Photographs: Courtesy, nicsa.org

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Sahai, his erstwhile colleagues say, attracted the attention of his global bosses quite early in his career after he started the concept of “imaging technology” as head of transaction services for India nearly two decades ago when such terms were unheard of. 

Under this concept, Citi started taking snapshots of each certificate so that share transaction settlement could be faster. Sahai and his team also set up Citil, a captive company, to achieve scale in the business. 

As the process became more commoditised, Citil was acquired by Tata Consulting Services. It was no surprise when Sahai was called to New York in 1996 to help set up Citi’s securities service strategy.

Asked what set Citi apart from others in this business, Sahai had elaborated his strategy at a global seminar in Toronto: “It is a high-volume technology, scale-driven business. So we tried to marry an institutional boutique kind of business on one side with the scale activity on the other”.

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Photographs: Brendan McDermid/Reuters.

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Many credit him with pioneering the concept of 24x7 operation efficiency and unified services to clients. The winning model for the future, Sahai had said, should shift to producing tailored solution for individual clients as the old model that focused on creation of new products did not produce value.

No wonder, he was termed by Global Custodian, a global print and online publication, as its “Securities hall of fame legend”,  which is a recognition for people in custody, fund administration, prime brokerage, securities lending and market infrastructure who have influenced the growth of the entire industry and made their own unique and exceptional contribution.

“I am eager to get started,” is all Sahai has said since the announcement. The world, and his batchmates at D-school, will be keenly watching his next move.

 

 


Photographs: Brendan McDermid/Reuters.

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