Bank of Baroda's ex-chief Anil K. Khandelwal's book is riveting

Bank of Baroda's ex-chief Anil K. Khandelwal's book is riveting

The autobiography of Bank of Baroda's ex-chief is riveting, says Somnath Dasgupta.

Dare to Lead

By Anil K. Khandelwal
Publisher: Sage
Pages: 403
Price: Rs 795

There was a time when withdrawing or depositing cash in a bank meant taking half a day's leave and queuing up at a bank branch, while a small army of clerical staff wrestled with huge ledgers to record simple transactions. Bank staff were strongly unionised, while branch managers sat in splendid isolation in their cabins. But the reforms of the 1990s and the opening of the new generation private sector banks changed all this, forcing even the smallest of government banks to get smart with technology, do up their interiors and install airconditioning.

Things have changed for the better. Or have they? Technology has made life much better for bank staff as well as customers. Yet the people behind the bank counters do not look any happier than before, or better aligned to their organisation's goals.

Technology has made the customer interface messy, creating "verticals" such as call centres, or text messages and emails sent to customers, that the bank staff who interact with the customers knows nothing about. In Dare to Lead, Anil Khandelwal shows how Bank of Baroda, or BoB, got a handle on the human aspects of running a bank much better than other public sector banks, or even the private ones. Khandelwal admits he is not an accountant and never got hooked by numbers, his specialisation being human resource development or HRD. He would have loved to specialise in HRD within the bank, but his ideas upset some vested interests, and they got him posted to head an operational zone. Everyone expected him to fail. But he took up the challenge and decided to put his theories about people to the test. The numbers would come later, he figured, once he cleared the system of "cholesterol" - processes that kept it clogged.In an interview to BT, he adds: "Everywhere, I have produced results through people."

As it turned out, his zone shone on all parameters. From then on, his rise to the chairman and managing director's post was steady, barring minor hiccups. One such hiccup was a posting to Kolkata, which was then the hotbed of trade unionism.

Amazingly, Khandelwal soon had the unions on his side. Later, as an Executive Director at the head office, he again faced trouble from sections opposed to him. "The Calcutta union did not join the tirade against me as ED," he recalls.

Khandelwal's account is riveting for every middle class Indian with aspirations, but no godfather to promote him. More importantly, he shows that doers can get results even in a public sector setting. "Is there any reason why I should give up my accounts with other banks, and turn to Bank of Baroda?" I ask Khandelwal. Yes, he says, For one, he notes that BoB has a friendly frontline culture, based not the least on the fact that it was set up by a far-sighted ruler from Gujarat. For another, he says, it is much more customer oriented, technology savvy and relationship driven. But he concedes that BoB has not reached the 'Victoria Terminus' of excellence.


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