‘You can’t achieve success without a team’
Vivek Pathak, director of East Asia and Pacific Department of International Finance Corporation, has traveled all over the globe for banking and finance, but his journey to the industry was purely by accident.
He studied physics in the University of Mumbai in India in the 1980s, but his real passion was previously in academia.
“You know in India, every parent wants their child to become an engineer, doctor, accountant or lawyer, but at that time I wanted to be an academic. I was keen to do research and teaching,” says Pathak.
He admits he soon lost his interest in that field, instead switching to a job in advertising. After three years, Pathak made another change, choosing market research where he worked for consumer product companies.
“Then by accident I joined the banking industry, as they are looking for someone who has my kind of experience.”
Pathak first worked at Bank of America Corp, and then moved to ABN AMRO Bank in Thailand. It was in Thailand where he faced the Asia financial crisis head-on in 1997.
“What really hit me hard was how banks and companies that were very positive about East Asia, suddenly decided to pull out due to the crisis.”
It was this realization that led to Pathak thinking about working with an organization that is driven by profit, but somewhere like IFC which will stay put and support countries when a company or economy is experiencing a downturn.
“So when I got an offer from the IFC to cover the Middle East and North Africa operation (in October 1998), I decided to take it immediately,” he said.
It was his time spent in Pakistan and Egypt that Pathak considers the most rewarding of his career so far. He has also been posted in “frontier” markets countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
“Going to Afghanistan was not a fun time — there were no phones, no hotels. I actually had to go to an office and seek an appointment from the administrator, and they told me to come back in the afternoon. So you go back at 4:30 pm and then you go to the next office,” he recalls.
Pathak remembers the challenging work in the region, including establishing microfinance banking in Afghanistan, and first investments in Iraq. The work was difficult but rewarding, and drove him to chase success, he says.
He admires managers who are willing to give credit and support their growth to those that work under their leadership.
“I worked for this one boss, who did a lot of work, and when the time came to give credit, he would send a memo to the big boss and say that it was done by the team. This is someone I looked up to.”
Pathak also believes no matter how brilliant you are, you can’t be successful without a motivated team. That’s why he has always been trying to be the boss that he once looked up to.
His business philosophy contains three basic aspects: honesty, hard work, and to work smart.
“These are things that I tell my team, and what I can give them in return is that I will back them up when there are issues, and I will stand up for them and give them credit.”