February 21, 2020
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Deepak Parekh, HDFC

“Parekh made us believe that even a single product ­company can be phenomenally ­successful,” says ­biz-analyst Tamal Bandyopadhyay.

Deepak Parekh, HDFC
Photograph by Getty Images
Deepak Parekh, HDFC
  • Under Parekh, HDFC’s assets grew to Rs 7,08,845 cr


Just last weekend, Deepak Parekh was regaling Indian students at LSE with snapshots from his CA articleship days in mid-1960s ­London—“too broke to have any dates, I compensated by ­experimenting with a lot of new cuisine, mostly an array of animals, much to the horror of my mother!” Seeing how India was in such a brighter place these days, he wished he was “in his ­twenties again”. That touch of levity marked Parekh’s speech on whether India was a superpower in the making. It’s the kind of idea that gets floated all too easily, especially by those not privy to the long, exacting infrastructural work that went into getting India—or that part of it which counts in this reckoning—to even this point. Robust systems and institutions are a precondition before such an idea can fructify. Precisely the field in which Parekh earned his epaulettes.

 After a good look early on at how top-notch consultancies and banks abroad functioned, he joined the newly-minted HDFC in 1978 and came to be its chairman in 1993, steering it to pole position with an expanding ambit—from housing finance to banking, insurance, mutual funds et al—tricky mergers like that with Times Bank in 2000, and assets totalling Rs 7,08,845 crore. Beyond that, Parekh is now seen as an all-­purpose savant-at-large, whose views are sought on regulatory issues across from gamut—real estate, capital markets, infrastructure financing and telecom. His judgement and nifty way with knotty problems made him the go-to man for policymakers and businessmen alike.

Look only at the long list of crises he ­managed, be it the turnaround of UTI or navigating the murky Satyam waters. This multi-focal lens comes naturally to one who saw banking grow, from the pre-reforms days to the private banking wave of recent decades—a new world and, like most of them, often a risky and morally ambiguous one, where he was like a frontier marshal, a reassuring presence. Yet, what makes Parekh stand out from his peers is not just his business acumen, but how he chooses to uses it: apolitically, with a strong sense of correctness and, like in London the other day, in constant conversation with the future.

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