From a Management Trainee to CEO — An Inspiring Story of Chanda Kochhar, The Lady Behind the Rise of ICICI Bank

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Warm regards to Chanda Kochhar — one of India’s financial icons who shaped the retail banking in India and the #32 in the Forbes list of 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, as in 2017. Her journey from a Management Trainee to the Managing Director (MD) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ICICI Bank makes her a strong role model for women across the world.

Kochhar’s father was a principal of an engineering college in Jaipur and always wanted to educate his children well. When Kochhar was only 13 years old, she lost her father and had to move to Mumbai with her family. She used to tell everyone how much she wanted to become an IAS officer.

However, in a turn of unexpected events, she opted for finance and did her MMS (Masters in Management Studies). One fine day, she went for an interview with ICICI, and there began her legendary journey, from a fresh graduate to what she is today!

Here’s the inspiring story of how Chanda Kochhar became one of India’s most courageous business tycoons:

Strong believer of hard work

Chanda Kochhar didn’t take a lift to the top. She took the steps, humbly and steadily, always moving forward. She started her career as a Management Trainee at ICICI in 1984 and climbed up the ladder to become the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 2009.

It was a row of tough times, but the way young Chanda Kochhar looked at it tells us a different story. All her working life, she had taken up various challenging assignments where she was responsible for setting up the new businesses of ICICI. However, she said, “I was clearly aware of the size and enormity of the responsibilities, but I wouldn’t call it daunting. You have to focus on handling the challenge rather than allowing the challenge to get the better of you.”

(Infographic is made with Canva.com)

Stepping into the big shoes of a CEO while being a mother of two was surely one of the biggest challenges Kochhar took. A very positive person, she said, “I took on a big responsibility. But I said that I’ll be careful and I’ll walk on my own shoes, because that’s the way you walk firmly and steadily and keep walking forward.”

Do you know what Chanda Kochhar said in an interview when asked how she could keep moving ahead with an ever-accelerating drive? It’s not a secret: she just takes every responsibility as an opportunity to find excitement in life.

The Defining Moment

Until 1993, ICICI (Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India) was a development financial institution, offering only ‘project finance’. During this time, Chanda Kochhar was the head of ICICI’s western regional office and one day she gave a presentation to K.V. Kamath, the man who played a key role in building the future of ICICI. During the presentation, Chanda Kochhar told him that she had made a few significant changes to the way the western office functioned. Contrary to the response she expected from him, Kamath asked her, “Who did you ask before making the changes?” Chanda Kochhar said, “No one.” Instead of getting mad at this, Mr. Kamath actually appreciated her for taking the initiative!

A few days later when ICICI was trying to set up a commercial bank, the then chairman of ICICI (1981–84), N. Vaghul, came across Chanda Kochhar who was an Assistant General Manager in the institution. Knowing about her proactiveness, he asked her to lead a team that decides the architecture of the bank.

Chanda Kochhar was the proud employee #1 at ICICI Bank, who refused many lucrative job opportunities from competitors.

Shaping the ICICI Retail Banking

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Soon ICICI Bank stepped into Retail Banking (banking for individuals). Chanda Kochhar was promoted as the head of retail operations, despite the fact that she was only experienced in corporate business. Surely, it was a risky move.

ICICI Bank’s half of the balance sheet and a larger portion of profits, was from corporate loans at that time. Retail business accounted for less than one per cent. However, under Kochhar’s leadership, it grew to 67% in just six years!! Chanda Kochhar never looked back.

Her straightforward style of leadership was evident even through hard times. While she was the new MD & CEO of ICICI Bank in 2009, the firm’s growth struggled and fell momentarily due to a series of high-profile exits. An emerging firm like ICICI Bank couldn’t afford to tell the world that its growth was climbing down. However, Chanda Kochhar boldly announced the situation, took it as a big opportunity to learn and kept moving towards reaching new milestones!

Doing business with a head and heart!

Chanda Kochhar is known for helping out her colleagues in managing high stress situations. When asked how she could handle heavy stress being in such a demanding job, she said that it comes as a part of package to every leader!

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She added, “You have to face the challenge. You cannot duck it or ignore it.” She advised the young leaders to ask themselves: “Would I let the stress mentally overtake me or would I overcome it?”

In her opinion, a leader should be like a sponge that absorbs all the stress. A leader shouldn’t let it pass it on in his or her team, because the team won’t be able to function efficiently. “You should make sure that stress doesn’t get the better of you.”, she advises.

Business has to be done with both head and heart.

She openly says that she doesn’t have a secret sauce for handling stress. Just a strong focus and determination to overcome it.

Juggling between Home and office

ICICI Bank is an incredibly large bank with over 80,000 employees, in India and overseas. In Chanda Kochhar’s leadership, the organization went far ahead, gaining momentum through Technology, Innovation, Process Engineering and Expansion of Distribution and Scale. But how did she juggle between family and such a demanding job?

(PC: successstory.com/)

I chose to be a working wife and mother. Why should I compromise on either?

Chanda Kochhar never felt guilty about not being able to spend lots of time with her family. She focuses on the quality time she spends with them. To her, job was a matter of her own choice rather than a matter of someone else forcing her to do it. She says, “When you tend to manage career and family, you think it’s a very difficult thing to do. But not an impossible one. It requires focus, hard work, prioritization and time management.”

Beyond her own discipline and capabilities, Kochhar gives credit to her family members on how she was able to balance work and life. She humbly praises the Indian society for its ecosystem of parents, in-laws and others!

Recipient of Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honours, a big dreamer and a hard worker all along, Chanda Kochhar stands out as a monumental inspiration for every youngster and entrepreneur. She’s a role model for all women across India who want to break boundaries and reach heights!

The secret mantra for Chanda Kochhar’s excellence and huge success is a simple question she asks herself everyday: “Am I putting enough effort to reach my potential?” Simple but a life-changing question!!

Author: Vinay Kumar Mora

References:

1) Louis Philippe — In Pursuit of Excellence Season 2 I Uncut version — Chanda Kochhar — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7_9Ebk279A&t=1362s

2) ET NOW Interview — Chanda Kochhar shares start of the ICICI journey — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_IaIfeK0Gc

3) Wikipedia — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanda_Kochhar

4) ICICI Bank — https://www.icicibank.com/aboutus/board-of-directors-chanda-kochhar.page

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