ICICI Group as an institution was never short of bench strength. If any senior professional left, there were always two or more seasoned executives ready to take over the responsibility the very next day without any difficulty. At times, there was a problem of plenty. As a result, many professionals also left to try leadership positions outside.
ICICI was often given the tag of 'CEO factory' for the fast growing financial services industry.
The spotlight is suddenly back on the ICICI Bank's top leadership, but for all the wrong reasons. There are murmurs in the market of bank's board installing an interim CEO with Chanda Kochhar temporarily staying out as there are ongoing investigations into the loans to Videocon Industries. The board had earlier backed Kochhar's continuation but there are reports of few directors having a conflicting view.
So who will take over if at all such an eventuality materializes tomorrow?
The current pool of senior management team has little over half a dozen professionals. Sandeep Bakhshi, 57, is the senior most in the group. Bakhshi currently heads the life insurance venture ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. Bakhshi had earlier built the general insurance venture from scratch for the group. He was also briefly at the bank as its Deputy MD looking after the retail portfolio.
Vishakha Mulye is another seasoned banking professional. She is currently the executive director at the bank as head of wholesale banking. She has extensive experience in strategy, treasury, structured finance etc. Between 2005 to 2007, she was the Group CFO under K V Kamath's tenure. Before her return to bank, Mulye had two stints with group subsidiaries -- ICICI Lombard General Insurance and ICICI Venture Funds.
Anup Bagchi is yet another new addition to the bank's senior management. He is executive director with responsibility of a large portfolio retail. Bagchi had a long stint at the ICICI Securities where he also headed its operations at the Managing Director & CEO. NS Kannan is yet another senior professional with banking experience. He is the Executive Director with responsibilities of finance, Treasury etc. Bhargav Dasgupta, Executive Director, ICICI Life has been managing the general insurance subsidiary as its MD& CEO. Nimesh Shah of ICICI Mutual Fund is also managing a large business independently.
The bank actually lost two very senior professionals who were Kamath's contemporaries. Lalita Gupte, 69, served as Joint Managing Director of ICICI Bank till 2006. Similarly, Kalpana Morparia was Joint Managing Director until 2007. Both retired as Kamath had more years to continue as the bank's MD & CEO. Kalapan Morparia, 68, still continues as India head of JP Morgan. In fact, the CEOs of private sector banks are allowed to continue as MD& CEO till they attain the age of 70. Today, Aditya Puri of HDFC Bank and Romesh Sobto of IndusInd Bank are in their late 60s.
Another senior professional S. Mukherji, who was looking after the ICICI Securities, retired in 2009. Nachiket Mor, 57, was seen as one of the contenders for the top post, but he was moved to ICICI Foundation just a year before Kamath was to retire. He later quit ICICI Bank. HN Sinor, who was part of the bank as its MD & CEO before the ICICI Ltd was merged with the bank, also quit after the reverse merger.
There are some who says the choices in the current pool are limited if one look at the pure banking experience. There is a vacuum. There was actually a exodus of senior management team members when Kochhar's elevation to MD & CEO was announced by K V Kamath. It was actually Kamath who nurtured the leadership pipeline for decades. The top contenders for the post were Nachiket Mor, Shikha Sharma, Renuka Ramnath, Sandeep Bakhshi, Sonjoy Chatterjee, V Vaidyanathan, Vishakha Mulye, Bhargav Dasgupta among others.
So around the time Chanda Kochhar's succession was imminent, many leaders with experience left the bank. Shikha Sharma, who was the top contender, left to join the Axis Bank. She is now out from Axis Bank because of NPAs and other issues. Sonjoy Chatterjee left to join Goldman Sachs. Renuka Ramnath left to start her own venture in the private equity space. She has actually built a new business from scratch.
V Vaidyanathan, though continued for some time after Kochhar's elevation, left to turn entrepreneur. Vaidyanthan, who is the founder and chairman of Capital First, built the company as a strong player in the NBFC space. He now has a bigger role post the merger of Capital First and IDFC Bank has been announced.
The most recent casualty was Zarin Daruwala, who left to head the Standard Chartered Bank in India.