Business Today - - THE BREAKOUT ZONE - By R. Gopalakr­ish­nan

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.

CEO – Chess Mas­ter or Gar­dener? How GameChang­ing HR Re­forms Cre­ated a New Fu­ture for Bank of Bar­oda By Anil K. Khan­del­wal Pub­lisher: OUP In­dia Pages: 388 Price: ` 750

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