It is a huge positive for management that more business leaders are writing about what they did and what they learnt. Former Bank of Baroda (BoB) Chairman, Anil Khandelwal, has also contributed to this genre. Just as every human life is unique, so is every career and every leadership journey. And management resembles a performing art rather than science. Future managers must read and internalise the stories challenges and joys experienced by other leaders. More so, because in spite of the media hype, there are no born business heroes just as there are no born batsmen. It is sheer grind and practice, and there arrives the magical moment, which creates an opportunity for 'momentary heroes', both in cricket and management.
Khandelwal is an academically oriented, operational banker. His book is based on the 'field research' over his lengthy career with BoB. Thanks to some credible operational experiences gathered during a largely IR/HR-oriented career path, he rose to be the Executive Director of BoB in September 2000. After reaching this position, he states, "I had the immediate task of developing some understanding, if not expertise, of the hard-core areas of banking, such as corporate credit, treasury, and the working of the board, to which I had no prior exposure."
In the first two-thirds of the book, the author devotes himself to explaining the outcome of IR/HR in BoB, the twists and turns depending on each chairman's preferences and the rise of the militant trade union in banking after nationalisation. It was a comprehensive narrative for students of IR as several company managements were cowed down by the trade union movement. Add to this the fact that the government controlled banks in multiple ways and the management of a bank became a game of taanashahi (autocracy). The seeds of several banking ills might well have been sown during those somewhat 'out-of-control' days.
The real management story begins only on page 223 as the author details how the BoB management started to assert itself. Was it because some people repossessed their manhood or they had different strategies? Not really. The context and environment changed in three ways. First, a long-exploited government initiated and directed a voluntary retirement scheme to reduce the number of employees in public sector banks in 2001. Second, technology disrupted banking and public sector banks (PSBs) had to change their ways of working aggressively. Third, private sector banks like ICICI and HDFC were flexing their young muscles. PSBs just had to change, and time was limited. Change knocked on the doors of BoB with the important Shakespearean lesson, "There is a tide in the affairs of men.." BoB just had to take the tide at the flood.
Khandelwal was an important initiator of the ensuing transformation. For readers who are interested in change management, the last 130 pages are highly relevant. It takes until Chapter 14 to learn Khandelwal's key lessons: Step 1 - Gardening, Step 2 - Preparing the soil, Step 3 - Planting the seedlings and Step 4 - Nurturance.
Naval folks judge the stability of a ship by its wake - the water trail left after the ship has ploughed through the water. Leadership should also be judged by what remains after the leader has gone. BoB developed a leadership pipeline of some merit, won a few awards as 'Best Bank' for two years in a row and logged in excellent financial performance till 2012. No leader could have an everlasting impact, and neither had Khandelwal.
As a reader, I feel two slim books have been combined into one - the first about labour relations in banks and the second about transformation management. In fact, if this reviewer can be irreverent, it would have made a fine book if Chapters 23-26 of his earlier book (Dare to Lead, 2011) are combined with the last 130 pages of this book. But then, I am neither the author nor the publisher - just a diligent and, I hope, discerning reader and a reviewer.