- In 1996, ICICI had a total asset base of Rs 23,324 crore. When Kamath left in 2009, it stood at Rs 3,80,000 crore.
The stultifying air inside the old public sector banks? The relief you felt amid that light Malaysian rubberwood corporate decor? The ease with which you opened an account? The ATM down the corner? What explains the whopping growth of ICICI bank? Something must. For, when K.V. Kamath took over as CEO and managing director in 1996, ICICI had a total asset base of Rs 23,324 crore. When he left in 2009, it stood at Rs 3,80,000 crore. If you were to rank the reasons for the runaway success of Kamath’s career, somewhere high up must come his uncanny ability to put his finger on the pulse of the average Indian—an instinct of what their aspirations are, how the growth in middle-class incomes forms the building bricks of a growing nation.
Right after IIM, in 1971, Kamath started in ICICI and breathed its work ethic for 17 years. He’s widely credited with computerising all records at ICICI, a big accomplishment at the time. In 1988, he moved to the Asian Development Bank—the eight years he spent there he credits as one of his biggest learning experiences. This is where he was exposed to economies such as China, as it navigated its own epochal changes, and realised how any leading bank needs to be state-of-the-art technologically and adopt retail and corporate lending, a strategy most banks at that time were unable to understand.
Banking wasn’t his first choice in profession. Born into a Gaud Saraswat family, he studied to be an engineer to join his family business of tile manufacturing in Mangalore. It was during his MBA in IIM Ahmedabad that he realised his knack for finance. It was in fact a professor who got him his job at ICICI, which was to define not just his career but the story of Indian banking as well. At ICICI, Kamath was a mentor to several of his employees—the most prominent being his successor and present MD, Chanda Kochhar. Most people who worked under him are now CEOs of competing banks—as good a sign as any of his seminal presence.