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This article was first published 10 years ago

Chanda Kochhar on her success story

July 04, 2013 10:12 IST

Image: Chanda Kochhar speaks during a news conference in Mumbai.
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

In June, CNN's ‘Leading Women’ focused on a woman widely acknowledged in the banking industry for her intelligent innovations – Chanda Kochhar.

She is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ICICI Bank Limited, India's largest private sector bank. 

Throughout her time at ICICI, Kochhar has implemented numerous innovative changes to the Indian retail banking industry which have directly contributed to the company becoming a market leader.

Kochhar is also widely acknowledged for her leadership, has been named a ‘Woman of Power’ by the Asian Business Leadership Forum and received the Padma Bhushan Award, the third highest civilian honour by the Government of India, for her services to the banking sector.

Poppy Harlow in conversation with Chanda Kochhar, who became ICICI’s first female CEO in May of 2009 - right in the thick of the global financial crisis - not an easy time to be the boss of a bank.

Published with the kind permission of  's Leading Women

Chanda Kochhar on her success story

Image: A woman walks past an ICICI Bank.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

Let's go back to when you took over the helm at the bank. It was a very difficult time in the global financial context and some call it a baptism by fire for you. Was it?

In a way, it was. But I think what was really important at that time was communicate, communicate, and communicate and tell the people what our strengths were. 

It was Kochhar's calm presence under pressure that many say helped reassure rattled customers and prevent a run on the bank. If she's satisfied by that success, though, she's not showing it.

No, I think it's not correct to be you know ever satisfied and sit back and say that everything is done.  I think it's important to celebrate your successes. It's important to feel happy about them, but it's equally important to look forward to the next big move. 

Chanda Kochhar on her success story

Image: ICICI Bank's Chief Executive Officer Chanda Kochhar.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

You've been called extremely focused and poised under extreme stress. Is that true?

Yeah, that's true, and I think that is in a way the job of a leader that when there is stress the leader has to maintain all the poise.  

And the leader in a way has to be like a sponge that has to absorb the stress because you know if you just allow stress to filter through and pass to your team then you're not doing a leader's job. 

Kochhar is responsible for a bank with assets of $93 billion, and more than three-thousand branches, in nineteen countries. All this for a woman who never dreamt of a career in banking. Kochhar gives credit to her mother for teaching her tenacity.

What I was told by my parents was that you know take this inhibition out whether you're a girl or a boy.  Basically, pursue your dream and as long as you're a capable and hardworking human being you will be able to follow and fulfill your dream.

Even with the challenges and uncertainty in these still-economically troubled times, Kochhar says nothing scares her.

Two eyes are given for a reason.  One eye to always look at the opportunity. The second eye to always keep looking at the challenges. Because if you don't balance both its very easy to get carried away one way or the other. And it's when you balance the two that you find the most sustainable model.

Chanda Kochhar on her success story

Photographs: Getty Images

As a child, Chanda Kochhar figured she'd get a job in India's civil service. Instead, a move to Mumbai as a teenager opened her eyes to the world of finance.  She joined ICICI bank as a management trainee in 1984.  25 years later, she became the company's first female CEO.

ICICI has been a meritocracy.  So, a huge amount a lot of responsibilities, big roles, challenges, have been given to women not because they are men or women or so on, but they were just given to people who have who the organization believes has the capability to perform.

Do you ever place women in top roles in part because they're women?

Not because they're women, but I think we as an organization have just groomed so many women and I'm very fortunate to have very capable women who are there in our top positions all entirely on account of their merit. 

Chanda Kochhar on her success story

Photographs: Courtesy, CNN

Kochhar's father died when she was just 13... Her mother was left to support the family. Kochhar considers both parents to be powerful influences.

My father in a way was a mentor in the way he instilled the basic values and ethics in me.  My mother was a mentor by showing me an example to say that if women have tenacity they can achieve whatever they have to.

Today, Kochhar has children of her own. And she's not troubled, by having to balance the needs of her business, and her family.

You're a mother of two, and I wonder how often you hear the question 'how do you do it all? How do you balance it all? How do you have it all?'  Do you hear that often and does it bother you ever?

Yeah, I hear that often. But at the same time, I do believe that it is a woman's not just responsibility but I think actually a great pleasure to play the role of mother and wife.  I just try to focus on playing both the roles to my fullest ability.

Chanda Kochhar on her success story

Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

Do you think there is such a thing as balance?

I don't think there's balance. There's basically to say do both the things. I mean so I do have to do it.  So, I think one has to, women have to start from this mindset to say 'we're going to achieve 48 hours of work out of 24 hours and let's see how do we do it.' 

A determined woman, with an ambitious goal – She wants ICICI to be among the world's twenty biggest banks within the next decade. It's a challenge she says she's more than ready to tackle.

It's been a long and exciting journey, but a journey full of focus and hard work. And I think a journey full of saying 'yes, I'm willing to take the next challenge. I'm willing to; I have the confidence of moving through it and producing some good results."

Published with the kind permission of  's Leading Women