Opening Comment: Hari, with your considerable leadership history, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in and do this interview. Thank you!
A: I have been very fortunate over the years to have worked for organizations, including ICICI Bank Limited, where each role required me to cultivate a new set of leadership skills, in extremely vibrant environment.
Q1: Can your share key lessons from each of your past roles?
Q2: What were the major challenges in the founding of ICICI?
A: There were numerous challenges in forming ICICI Bank Canada but we overcame those with a lot of support from the Parent company, the Canadian regulators, and a dynamic team that was focused on making it happen.
We entered Canada at a time when Indian companies were just starting to make inroads in overseas markets. Indian financial institutions were a no-name entity, with limited branding in the expatriate and mainstream communities.
In the beginning it was the challenge of defining our niche, then laying down the right policy framework, getting the right people, products, build a brand, establishing delivery channels, bridging the Indian and Canadian corporate cultures, and so on.
We were perpetually inventing and executing, and in many ways still doing so. There were no check-lists or books written on how to create a bank from scratch - but our team-ICICI did it in style.
Q3: What are the major opportunities and solutions you are facing today with ICICI and how do they relate to businesses in general
A: There are tremendous opportunities in Canada and globally for Canadian banks. Domestically, we are positioned as an alternative to the Canadian financial institutions; our model can be best identified as a full-service direct bank. In addition, our structure is flat and our size allows us to be close to our customers.
On the corporate banking side, Canadian businesses and political leaders are working very hard in developing new opportunities and markets. India-Canada corridor has gained significant prominence in recent months. We are doing every thing possible to make ICICI Bank Canada as the first port of call for companies at both ends. Our parent company has a very large corporate client base that is very interested in forging relationships around the world and we want to be the catalyst in brining these contacts and our knowledge of Indian market to the doorsteps of Canadian entities.
For individuals, including the expatriate community, we are bringing very competitive deposit and lending products, new investment products and other banking facilities such as money transfers to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We are delivering these products by deploying the latest technology. This allows expatriates and others to conduct their business in an efficient manner, at low cost, and actively participate in the investment opportunities that exist today in India. These services are available through our bank branches and our wealth management subsidiary right here in Toronto.
Q4: How is the Canadian business environment different from that internationally?
A: It is no secret that the striking difference about us is the small consumer base in Canada, the proximity and economic links with the US economic activity and continued reliance on natural resources are very noticeable factors.
Diversification and access to another large consumer base is an issue that countries in the Far East, Africa or in Europe do not face. Though increased share of the services sector in the last decade or so, and more recent efforts by major Canadian corporations and large pension funds, has started to provide some diversification to the Canadian economy.
Q5: What should we watch for internationally?
A: I think India and China will continue to throw new dimensions as consumers in those countries become more affluent and start to control their destiny, in view of their own cultural values. We will also start to see the spillover effect in the African sub-continent where India and China are seen as the role models. Other South Asian countries are accelerating their policy and international relationships - the most recent example being a free-trade pact being finalized between Thailand and India. We are likely to see an increased presence of Singaporean and the Middle East investors in North America.
Q6: As a leading CEO, what do you see as the top five issues facing businesses today and your recommendations?
Q7: From the CEO perspective, how do you see technology integrated into business performance, strategy, goals, and objectives? What would be your key priorities for ensuring business and IT alignment?
A: Integration of technology into business strategy is absolutely critical in today's environment. IT and business have to align themselves in building business applications that are simple and include prediction models, facilitate design of business lines, ATMs as a robust delivery channel, collection and analysis of data for marketing, customer service, financial reporting, organizational research, improvement of quality and productivity in service operations; employee performance measurement, competitive decision situations, risk management, simulation experiments; cost/benefit analysis; data access; privacy issues; conceptual design; artificial intelligence; new communication technologies; analysis of complex problems using mathematical programming models, management information systems for complex treasury products and critical business segments; management of operations; interfacing among the functional areas of business.
Q8: What should businesses know about future trends in the Internet environment and in IT? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?
A: Internet Security remains a major concern. In addition, integration of data intelligence largely in public domain (credit bureaus, house valuation, municipal data, land titles and PPSA, etc.) and the customer's ability to structure the desired products, without bank interface are some of the emerging trends.
The opportunity lies in building a customer base from coast to coast without physical presence.
Q9: I have a unique opportunity to drill into the accumulated wisdom from an accomplished executive. If you could sum up your life experiences with some career tips for the ICT professional, what would be your tips and the reasons behind them?
A: I would be pleased to provide a few insights:
It begins with one's internal desire to succeed. It is that desire that provokes your thought process and opens up the mind to explore alternatives. Then the call has to be made to execute the action items that lead you to achieving your goals. A very high level of bias towards execution is essential no matter what you do.
Building relationships is another very important aspect - in forming ICICI Bank Canada we experienced firsthand the power of relationships and networking - it helped us in building our brand faster than we thought we ever would, our relationships in each and every sphere helped us and supported in building a success story. Our alliances with the smallest to the biggest of the competitors continue to flourish.
Concurrently, you have to balance business with a bit of social responsibility. As a start-up we made social commitments ahead of our business turning profitable, by extending our support for the Helen Keller Centre, the Roy Thompson Hall and the Royal Ontario Museum, to name a few. Our employees, customers and all the stakeholders have rewarded us tangibly and in goodwill for taking such an approach.
Q10: Which three experiences most shaped your life and work?
A: I think my early years were definitely shaped by my family, with my parents as the first influencers. Then, moving to Canada and experiencing the Canadian values was another one - throughout my career. As I progressed through my professional life, working with a variety of executives, diplomats, business people, clients, political leaders, all in some way have helped shape my life - and certainly I include my family that has taught me to be patient and keep it all relevant.
Closing Comment: Hari, you provided an in-depth and thought provoking perspective on business, technology, and leadership. Thank you for sharing your valuable time and deep insights with our readers.
A: It's been my pleasure and I thank you for sharing our experiences for the benefit of your readers.
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