Business Today

The healer dealers

Indian deal shops are not testosterone-charged boiler rooms.

Rajiv Bhuva and Anusha Subramanian         Print Edition: Nov 28, 2010

One woman director for 777 listed companies. That is the dismal status at the 2,617 companies that are listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange - only 5.3 per cent, or 830, of 15,804 directors on the boards of these corporations are women.

Against such a drab backdrop, let us cut to one sector of Indian industry where women flourish, prosper and rise to the top - banking and financial services or rather, more specifically, investment banking. Virtually every deal shop in the country has a woman calling the shots (see The Divas of Deals). And a few, like Naina Lal Kidwai and Kalpana Morparia, have utilised investment banking as a springboard to go on and head full-fledged financial institutions. Kidwai, who headed I-banking at Morgan Stanley in the latter half of the 90s, is today the India Head at HSBC Bank, and is also on the Asia-Pacific board.

Women heading investment banks in India runs against the grain of developed markets. There are no women leading the big American and European banks; and, in fact, no woman has ever run an investment bank on Wall Street. In the West, investment banking is considered a boys' club that thrives in testosterone-charged boiler rooms. Back home, it is the women who are advising promoters on billion dollar cross-border mergers and acquisitions, helping them raise thousands of crores on Dalal Street via public issues, and handholding them in restructuring of operations.

Ask Vedika Bhandarkar why there are so many women bankers doing the big deals, and she has an answer that you wish held true for all of India Inc. "Whether women or men, achievers get to where they are (in I-banking) because they are pretty good at what they do," says the India Vice Chairman and Head of Investment Banking at Credit Suisse. "Yes, the number of women bankers globally is not comparable to that of India. But here the number stands out because the number of senior women in other industries is much lower," adds Bhandarkar, who also demolishes the myth of the glibtalking and hard selling banker with her demeanour.

So, what are the skills that women possess that make them so effective in the hurly-burly of I-banking? "You need to be relationship-and not transaction-focused, be very proactive and work well in teams to deliver the best product for your clients," points out Aisha De Sequeira, Managing Director and Head of Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley India. There is a school of thought that women are better team players, but if women are at home - quite literally - in I-banking, it is also because they possess one skill that men would have a hard time cultivating. "What is different between a man and a woman is that women are better at multitasking," explains Madhabi Puri Buch, Managing Director and CEO of ICICI Securities. Adds Manisha Girotra, CEO and Country Head at UBS India: "Women are 200 per cent at work." If you are wondering where the other 100 per cent came from, well, that is time spent with the children and at home. Girotra has a seven-year-old daughter.

Yet, what Indian I-bankers have going for them - and what those in the West do not have - is a social support system back home, which includes (a joint) family and domestic support. "You do not see so many women bankers in the US because they do not have such a support system there," agrees UBS's Girotra. Buch points out that the reason for so many women at leadership positions in investment banking is that they are first-generation professionals who plunged into this sector 20-25 years ago. "They were confident as professionals, had the support of their families and did not have to worry about money," says Buch.

Yet, in those early days on Dalal Street, many myths prevailed. Within investment banking, one perception was that women would never be good at the job because of the hectic networking that was required on the cocktail circuit. "The myth that women are not good at socialising in a business environment has been long broken. Things have changed over the past five years," points out Falguni Nayar, Managing Director of Kotak Investment Banking. Kaku Nakhate, President and Country Head at Bank of America Merrill Lynch India, who ventured into financial services in 1989, says the industry has come a long way since then. And that evolution has been driven as much by societal progress as it has been by talent and ambition.

For instance, as Nakhate explains, expectations in a marriage are very different from those that prevailed two decades ago when home-making was more the norm than deal making.

The trend of power women on Dalal Street could have well begun when the likes of Nakhate got their feet wet in the business. But will the next 20 years provide a fresh lot of women leaders in I-banking? It does not quite look that way. "The talent pool of women (in investment banking) is very shallow," says Bhandarkar with a shrug. Adds De Sequeira, who worked with Morgan Stanley in New York before coming to India in 2007 as head of I-banking: "Whilst most at the helm in investment banking are women, the truth is that their teams do not have too many women. The pipeline going forward is a big issue. Mentoring is important to get more women into the profession." Add that as one more task to the multitude of responsibilities these superwomen have taken on.

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