Q. The biggest challenge you faced in your career
A. The biggest challenge came in 2004/05 when we were raising an initial capital of Rs 2.7 crore for Ujjivan to apply for an NBFC licence and start our operations. It took us over a year to persuade friends and colleagues to invest in this first-of-its-kind urban microfinance venture. It taught me to be humble, patient and persistent and shed any form of arrogance or ego (built over my international banking career of three decades) because I firmly believed in the mission and the vision of the enterprise and had to make it a success. We got the licence in record time - just 49 days. From that humble beginning, we moved ahead to our successful IPO in 2017, raising Rs 1,175 crore, and the issue was oversubscribed 41 times. The entire IPO exercise was done in less than six months.
Q. Your best teacher in business
A. In November this year, I will complete 14 years in Ujjivan, and I have a career spanning 45 years. During this period, I had the privilege to work with many outstanding leaders. But my best teacher was Jaithirth (Jerry) Rao, who pioneered retail banking in India when we worked for Citibank in 1985. Under him, I had the freedom to think, build a team and take risks to establish a new enterprise - the very successful NRI business of Citibank. It was later cloned by many others. He also believed in young talent and recruited the best and the brightest who are now leading several organisations across the globe. His mantra was to recruit candidates who were more talented than us.
Q. One key management lesson for young people
A. It is important to find your calling. You must identify what excites you and brings you great joy. Some find it easily, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did. Some take longer, like Elon Musk and Muhammad Yunus. It took me 30 years to start Ujjivan.
Q. Two essential qualities a leader must have
A. Leaders must have an open mind and must always be in a learning mode. Second, success only comes from hard work and persistence; so, they should stick to that.