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'Sashi' has large shoes to fill as HDFC Bank's new boss

By Anup Roy
August 13, 2020 14:02 IST
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Apart from navigating the bank through the Covid crisis, Jagdishan may also have to deal with the latest development on the auto loan lending practice scam.

He will be expected to deliver consistent profit growth of 20 per cent-plus quarter after quarter, irrespective of the operating environment.

Sashidhar Jagdishan

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Sashidhar Jagdishan joined HDFC Bank in February 1996 as manager of finance at the young age of 31, surprising his wife.

Jagdishan had an offer to join the investment banking division of Deutsche Bank in Singapore and had no clear idea about HDFC Bank - whether it was a public or a private institution, or how much stake parent HDFC held in the bank.

 

“It wasn’t money or the organisation or the pride of working for a domestic firm but the thought of leading a team that was the most exciting part,” he told senior journalist Tamal Bandyopadhyay for his book on HDFC Bank, A Bank for the Buck.

Bandyopadhyay credits Jagdishan and Neeraj Swaroop, who later became the chief of Standard Chartered’s India operation, as the two who played “stellar roles” in the making of the bank even as they were not part of the founding team.

Sashi, as he is called in the bank, went on to become the second chief financial officer (CFO) of HDFC Bank, and will take over as its managing director and chief executive officer (MD & CEO) on October 27, succeeding Aditya Puri at the leading private sector lender.

He will have big boots to fill, no doubt, and will be expected to deliver consistent profit growth of 20 per cent-plus quarter after quarter, irrespective of the operating environment.

But then Jagdishan has a certain ruthlessness when it comes to cost.

Soon after taking over the bank’s financial control unit, he got rid of paper cups for coffee across branches and saved Rs 50 lakh.

While that may not be a big sum for a lender like HDFC Bank, it gives an idea on the minute detailing Jagdishan goes into.

Bandyopadhyay’s book also mentions an episode where an employee had to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his calculator before Jagdishan allowed him to buy a new one.

Apart from such printed snippets, little is known about Jagdishan.

He maintained a low profile and let Puri and Paresh Sukthankar be the public face of the bank.

It was widely believed that Sukthankar would succeed Puri.

But in 2014, the Reserve Bank of India raised the age limit of private bank CEOs to 70 and Puri got another five years.

Sukthanakar, then deputy MD, left the bank in August 2018.

The successor’s post was left open and three names were shortlisted and sent to the RBI: Sashidhar Jagdishan, executive director Kaizad Bharucha and Sunil Garg, CEO of Citi Commercial Bank at Citigroup.

It is understood that Puri strongly preferred Jagdishan, appointing him as a “change agent” in August 2019.

This choice of candidature was perhaps not agreeable to HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, who preferred an external candidate in the absence of Sukthankar.

Their differences on the issue became public though the bank remained tightlipped about it.

Jagdishan currently heads the bank’s finance, human resources, legal and secretarial, administration, infrastructure, corporate communications, corporate social responsibility and the strategic change agent departments.

Apart from navigating the bank through the Covid crisis, Jagdishan may also have to deal with the latest development on the auto loan lending practice scam.

In all likelihood, the issue may continue to simmer beyond October.

The bank is also witnessing senior manager exits, and as with every new CEO appointment, there could be more exits going forward.

How Jagdishan manages those and the image of the bank as a consistent performer and a darling of investors, both local and foreign, is to be seen.

For now, it seems investors are jubilant. The bank’s stock jumped five per cent on the news.

“What we hear from many employees is that Sashi is a hard taskmaster and what is essential is to ensure the stellar execution track record that HDFC Bank has built over the years.

"Also, in our marketing with investors across the globe, Sashi was their preferred choice,” wrote Macquarie Capital Securities in its flash note.

“In an uncertain environment like this, we believe an internal candidate who is in sync with the outgoing CEO Mr Puri is the right choice.

"Sashi comes with a very diverse experience having handled multiple functions in the bank and hence we believe he is the appropriate choice,” said Macquarie.

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Anup Roy in Mumbai
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