Saturday, July 7, 2018

Art of Cricket to A-Z of Bradman

The small town where we lived in our childhood had two large playgrounds that belonged to the two High Schools, one run by the Town Municipality and the other by a Private Education Trust. They were the days without computers and mobiles, and naturally evenings were occupied in playing in these two big fields. There were another half a dozen medium and small grounds as well that belonged to other smaller schools. There was a great but healthy rivalry between the two high schools in various competitions, be it sports or other extra-curricular activities. The annual cricket match between the two high schools was an event that was eagerly looked forward to by all sports enthusiasts. Students from all over the taluk (tehsil) studied in these two schools. Many lived in hostels and some had private arrangements for pursuing their studies.

The town had a cricket group that played as a team only when an outside team was invited to play in the town. A blackboard kept on the previous day, in the town's main circle near the municipal office, used to announce the conduct of the match. Some of the elderly players in the team, mostly in their twenties and early thirties, had already finished their studies and were living in the nearby big city either for higher studies or employment. On the day of the match they would come together and assemble in the ground just before the match. The shortage of players to make up the final XI was managed by picking the deficit from among us youngsters. I was the official scorer for these unofficial matches. There was no remuneration for the official scorer, but the privilege of joining the participating teams for lunch was extended as a perk.

The eldest son of the town's transport operator was the team's captain. He was chosen as a captain for three reasons. That he was a good fast bowler was the first reason. He owned the playing kit was the second reason. He funded the expenses for the match and lunch was the third and more important reason. He was a fun loving young man and had contacts in the city for inviting other teams to come and play in our town. Though not practicing as a regular team, the winning record of the team was indeed satisfactory.

On one such match days, the captain had brought a copy of "The Art of Cricket" to the playground. The only source to see books for youngsters like us in those days were the school library or homes of teachers or local scholars. Books were prized possession and were never parted with. Borrowing books for school children like us was almost impossible. Don Bradman, a revered name then (as it is even today) was the author of the book. The book was passed around the elder members of the team. I got to touch the book when it was passed around. "The Art of Cricket" is actually a technical manual written by the Don himself and was originally published in the year 1958. The book was acclaimed as the best coaching book on cricket and holds its own high position even today, despite a plethora of books on cricket. The book has seen several revisions and editions and remains a popular book on the art of cricket.

I wanted to borrow the book and read it. The captain had already refused to give it to two of his elderly teammates. Asking him for the book appeared to be the toughest task at that time. I mustered courage and went to him in the restaurant during the lunch recess. My request was for getting the book for one day. He looked at me and asked me to sit down on the chair opposite to him.

"Are you in the same class as my younger brother Raju?"
"Yes, we are in the same class."
"How is he in his studies?"
"He is doing alright. Attends school regularly."
"He failed in Mathematics."
"He was more interested in sports last year. Now he is okay."
"I understand that you help him in his studies."
"Not much. I try to help the way I can."
"You know I do not give the book to anybody."
"I need for only one day. I will return it safely. I will keep it neat and clean."
"I will give it to you as a special case. Bur for only three days."

Two days were enough to read through the book. The book was returned with thanks well before the deadline.

My niece visited her sister presently living in Australia. As a part of the sight seeing trips she visited Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral, New South Wales. Bowral town is 126 kilo meters from Sydney. While on the visit, she was kind to remember with my interest in cricket literature. She bought a book titled "The A-Z of Bradman". The first thing she did after landing in Bangalore was to meet me and handover the book. Such a nice gesture.

This book by Alan Eason is different from other books. The author studied Accountancy, but the book says he found words more interesting than figures. He started by contributed crossword puzzles to newspapers, covering a wide range of subjects. Sports and cricket got included and he used this background to present the Don from A to Z in this book. The book, spread over 440 pages gives all types of information about the Don arranged from A to Z. It contains information about his life, career in cricket and the many interesting personalities that were an integral part of his life. The book starts from Aberdeen seaport in Scotland, where the Don played his last match in Britain, and ends with with Zanetti Paul, the freelance artiste. For those who have not heard of Paul Zanetti, his cartoon of God asking for the Don's autograph on his arrival in Heaven after his death on 25th February 2001 appeared in many newspapers and summed up Don Bradman's popularity.

There are many interesting details in the book. Don Bradman averaged 101.39 before his last test innings. He needed four runs in the last innings to end with an average of 100 runs. He was astonishingly out for a second ball duck. Many things are said about the same. Some even went to the extent of saying that there were tears in his eyes as he faced the ball since he was ending his test career. He could not see the ball properly and got out, they said. But the don himself denied these opinions. In a television interview Ray Martin asked him " Do you laugh when you think, it is the most famous duck in cricket history?", Bradman replied "No, I don't laugh much about it, because I am very sorry that I made a duck, and I would have been glad if I had only made those four runs so I could finish with an average of 100". 

In his "The Art Of Cricket", Don Bradman emphasises the importance of preparing physically and mentally for each cricket match, be it a club game or a test match. He deals at length on the choosing of proper gear like leg guards, gloves or a bat, or polishing the shoe and checking the nails on the boots. Things have changed a lot from the time of buying a bat and seasoning it with Linseed Oil. Modren bats are indeed different. Nevertheless, choosing the appropriate gear and checking their working before the match are as important today as in his playing days. Even slight carelessness in the preparation may turn out to be the end of what could be a great innings. This we see even today, when a batsman fails to ground his bat while taking a quick single or even while backing up at the bowler's end. Bradman's this lesson is equally applicable in every walk of life. Giving importance to minor details can be the boundary line between success and failure in any walk of life.

Fifty years is a long time indeed. "The Art Of Cricket" had to be borrowed for two days. "The A-Z Of Bradman" will be with me for much longer. Its reading pleasure can be savoured leisurely! There should certainly be many worthy lessons in it that can be used in future.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

My Factory Is Closed

The elderly gentleman was waiting at the gate even before the bank branch was opened on that Monday morning, forty four years ago. He was in an agitated mood and quite different from his usual self. A regular visitor to the branch and always dignified in his behaviour and dealings, he was tense that morning. He grudgingly acknowledged our greetings that day. As we entered the branch after the doors were opened, he came and sat in the customers area outside the counter. He did not come into the banking hall even when our Assistant Manager requested him to come in. His demeanour indicated that he was unhappy with something. It appeared a storm was brewing. 

Branch Manager walked in and went to his cabin. He had barely sat down in his chair when the elderly gentleman rushed into cabin. We could not see what happened in the cabin because the cabin was a separate room and not a glass covered enclosure we have nowadays. His raised voice could be heard outside the Manager's room. "Your people have joined hands with my competitor. My raw material has been delivered to him and his factory is working extra shift. My factory is closed and my workers idle. My loss is his profit. You are a party to this. I will certainly do something about this", he shouted and walked away like a comet.  

Within a few minutes I was called into the Manager's cabin. Verification of some records and little discussion helped us into getting a clear picture of what was the real issue. The elderly gentleman had indeed a genuine grievance and his anger was well justified, though the cause was not intentional. The challenge now was to sort out the issue before the matter got out of hand and resulted in a serious complaint.

Indian exporters have to compete with their counterparts from countries in the neighbourhood like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Jordan etc. for selling their products in the international markets. This is all the more true in respect of readymade garment exports. They have three main challenges in pushing their products in the competitive market; price, quality and delivery schedules. Production costs are to be kept at the lowest, but quality cannot suffer. Delivery schedules have to be strictly met as a few days delay may result in the rejection of goods by the buyer in the fast-changing fashion market. Summer and winter wear requirements of Europe and Continental America also influence the market. Readymade garment units work on wafer thin margins and some incentives given by the government is often the saving grace for them. Managing such units is indeed a tough task. Fast turnover of labour is another problem area in running such units.

Indian garment trade contributes nearly 4% to the country's GDP. It provides 4.5 million jobs to tailors, transporters and traders. Nearly a fourth of the production is for the overseas markets. The total share in exports percentage-wise was nearly the same four decades ago.

As per the industry practice, buyers of such garments in overseas markets employ quality professionals and place them in the hub of such garment factories. These buyer's representatives decide on the quality of fabric and other material used in production. They visit cloth manufacturing units and specify the type of cloth to be used in making the garments. The export units have to buy the cloth from these factories alone for the making of garments. Ensuring continuous supply of fabric is a key component for keeping the workers engaged and meeting delivery schedules.

The two readymade garment export units dealing with us were supplying to common buyers abroad. The materials used in production, nature and style of garments manufactured and delivery schedules were the same. Both were required to use a certain type of fabric manufactured in a factory located on the outskirts of Bombay (Mumbai). The manufacturing company insisted on payment for the material supplied through a settlement called "Documentary Credit" (popularly known as Letter of Credit or LC). Buyers bank was required to issue these LCs in favour of the supplier. Goods were being sent through "Approved Transport Operators". Such operators are not to deliver the goods at the destination unless the original MTR (Motor Transport Receipt) or popularly known as LR (Lorry Receipt) is produced at destination. Goods were loaded on the trucks at the producer's factory and sent to destination. Documents were produced by the seller to their bank in Mumbai and payment received from them. The bank would send the papers to the buyer's bank. Buyers were required to pay the amounts, receive documents and then take delivery of the goods from the transporter. This is how the work flowed and goods moved.

Though the system was supposed to work like this, there were problems for the buyers and transport operators in this system. Goods loaded on the trucks would reach the destination in 2 to 3 days. Truck operators had to unload the goods and store in their warehouses until the buyer produced the relative documents. This entailed unloading goods from the truck at destination and again loading for delivery at the buyer's factory. Valuable space was used up at warehouse as well as additional costs were incurred for loading, unloading and transport till the buyer's factory. Documents given to the bank would take about 10 days to reach the buyer through the bank's route. Postal delays were common. Couriers had not yet made their debut. At any rate holding trucks with load on them was impractical. Transporters made their money only when trucks were running on the road and not when idling at either ends of loading and delivery.

Transport operator and buyer had arrived at a simple formula for solving this issue. The truck would go directly to the buyer's factory from Mumbai. As the truck arrived, buyer would obtain the document number and come to the bank. Bank would give an authorisation to deliver the goods to the buyer in the absence of the documents that were yet to arrive from Mumbai. Both the transport operator and buyer were happy with this arrangement. Trucks got free in a few hours for their next journey and transport operator did not need to store the goods. Buyer got the goods quickly and without additional loading, unloading and transport costs. As regards bank, the risk was of payment by the buyer when the documents were received from the seller's bank. This was taken care by the buyers by placing adequate funds in their bank accounts when obtaining authorisation letters for delivery. Working was smooth and everyone was happy!


On a Saturday, one of the trucks from Mumbai arrived at destination. The truck driver went to one of the factory by force of habit and goods were unloaded. The factory representative came to the bank, gave document number and took authorisation letter and disposed off the truck. The only problem was that it was a truck meant to go to the other factory. As the goods were identical, nobody observed the details of the consignment. One factory got the extra raw material while the other was starved of its rightful quota. This led to the angry visit of the elderly gentleman to the bank on Monday morning.

Rest of the story was indeed simple. The matter was dealt with between the two partners of the two firms. The younger son of the elderly gentleman, who was a partner of the firm with his father, mother and elder brother handled the issue deftly. The goods on the next truck meant for the other factory was diverted to the starved factory. As all other consignment details were the same, not much of give and take was required.

The case of exchanged trucks taught us a very important lesson - be extra careful when the systems are short circuited. All things may appear in order and simple. Yet, there could be complications and unforeseen mishaps. It also taught another lesson - that a problem could be solved with understanding, maturity and give and take attitude.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Use, Misuse and Abuse of Powers

Lord Indra has gone away from Amaravati, the capital of the Devas. A small misunderstanding with Bruhaspati, the Guru and chief advisor of his clan had brought a chain of bad tidings. After a series of undesirable happenings he was forced to abandon his abode and spend his time sitting in the stem of a lotus in Maanasa Sarovar, a divine lake in the Himalayas. The Devas were left without their leader and captain. This was not acceptable in the order of things. They were constrained to find a temporary substitute. Finding a suitable alternative to Lord Indra was no easy task. The position carried so much of power and responsibilities with it that it was indeed impossible to search for one who filled the gap perfectly. He had to be strong, knowledgeable and capable of controlling and commanding the loyalty of the mighty stalwarts of the upper world. The bigger problem was not in finding a substitute; it was in ensuring that the substitute vacates his position when the original occupant returned in due course. 

An acceptable substitute was finally found in King Nahusha, who was the emperor of the middle world, the earth. This King was indeed a perfect fit; he had administrative experience and was a friend of the Devas. There was no possibility of his betraying the trust of the Devas and joining hand with the Asuras, the occupants of the lower world. King Nahusha believed in the rule of righteousness (Dharma), did not believe in sticking to the chair as a limpet, and ever willing to shoulder additional responsibilities of any nature for a good cause. He was not ambitious and yet not shirking in accepting additional duties. When approached to take over the post of Lord Indra, he agreed without much conditions. The only condition he placed was that he should be free to access any source and stream of knowledge he desired that enabled his efficient discharge of his duties. An agreement was reached on seat-sharing and he took over as Lord Indra till the time the original incumbent returned.

King Nahusha entrusted his kingdom on earth to his son King Yayati, and proceeded to the heavens with his wife Virijadevi. As he progressed in his duties, all his ministers and subjects were much impressed by his administrative skills and problem solving techniques. He was an expert in judicious use of the powers vested in him. Agni (Fire God) and Vayu (Wind God), the two senior most ministers started wondering why the previous Indra and they themselves were not aware of their own powers and had not thought of utilising those powers in solving the various issues confronting them. Guru Bruhaspati, who was now back as the chief advisor was also surprised by the way in which Nahusha was able to exercise the powers vested with Lord Indra. Guru Shukracharya, chief advisor of demons and an adversary of Bruhaspati was also dumbstruck at the administrative acumen shown by Nahusha. He was now a made a part of the advisory council of the upper world, which was not even dreamt in the rule of the regular Lord Indra.

Instead of holding on to the powerful chair as long as he could, Nahusha started his pursuit to find the original incumbent and restore the seat to him. He enquired as to the reason for Indra's exile. Having come to know that Indra was hiding to escape from a evil force, he marshalled all resources at his command to get rid of the evil force. That would make way for return of the original Indra.

He chided both Agni and Vayu for not solving this issue earlier. "You are both bestowed with abundant powers for facing such eventualities. Both of you can fall back on your Omnipotent powers (Vishwaroopa dharana) during an emergency and thereby destroying the evil force. Even Indra could have done this. All of you did not use the powers already vested in you. Instead, you were looking for outside force to solve this issue. Now I am commanding you. I am also giving you detailed instructions for action. Go ahead and get Lord Indra released. This is my order!", he thundered.

Agni and Vayu were now transformed by the realisation of their own hidden powers. They succeeded in destroying the evil force. Lord Indra was released. Nahusha did not worry about losing the throne on which he could have had a much longer tenure. The seat was restored to Lord Indra permanently. The Devas also learnt the secret of exercising powers vested in them efficiently and effectively. Exercising powers was totally different now and they were indebted to King Nahusha for this valuable lesson.

We often hear the words use, misuse and abuse in the context of exercise of powers by various public authorities and private enterprise. Some are unable to exercise powers vested in them. There are others who misuse the powers given to them. There are many others who go much forward and abuse the powers that are given to them by gross exceeding of their contours. 

What do these three words actually mean? When does use of a power become misuse? When does that cross even that border and turnout to be abuse of powers? In the context of what is happening around us in these times, it is indeed time to understand the real import of these three phrases of use of powers, misuse of powers and abuse of powers.

The word "Use" is so common that it is defined as "Making use of" or "Put into use". It denotes positive exercise of powers as it ought to be. Not using of one's powers is indeed a failing in discharge of one's duties. Many functionaries at all levels fail to exercise their powers. Some are not even aware of their powers. Some others do not know how to use them. Many are afraid to use them! All of them have wonderful arguments justifying their positions. Nevertheless, they cause irreparable damage by not using their powers. The real tragedy is that not exercising powers takes a back seat due to misuse and abuse of powers in the surroundings.

The word "Misuse" denotes wrong or improper use of anything. It is use of power for a purpose other than what is prescribed by law or rules. It often goes unnoticed and may not be harmful to others. It may not even be treated as an omission. The nature of misuse is such that many authorities consider it as normal use and others also consider it as a normal or routine thing.

The word "Abuse" represents unrestrained exercise of one's powers and authority with intention. Here the person abusing the powers is well aware of the actions and their impact on others. It encroaches on the area of others and denies what is rightly due to others. The element of "Mens rea" associated with criminal jurisprudence is present here. Abuse often brings personal gratification to the person exercising powers or his associates. Arrogance is its hallmark and preparedness to further abuse the powers to meet the consequences its main feature. Abuse is immensely harmful to the society and the institutions that they represent.

Devudu Narasimha Sastry (1895-1962), popularly known as Devudu, was a scholar par excellence and well known literary figure. He was known for his mastery in Sanskrit, English and Kannada literature. He was an actor, journalist and novelist as well. He was also associated with film world and stage plays. He was an expert in various facets of vedic knowledge and revered for his good qualities. His commentary on Mimamsa, "Mimamsa Darpana" is a highly acclaimed work in that field. He had the fantastic ability to bring out the hidden knowledge in ancient works through novels couched in simple language and yet profound in their meaning and impact. His trilogy of works "Mahabrahmana", "Mahakshatriya" and "Mahadarshana" are masterpieces and won critical acclaim and awards. His short novel "Mayura" deals with the life of King Mayuravrama of Kadamba dynasty. Mayura was made into a film with Dr Rajkumar in lead role. The film is very popular and is considered as a milestone in Kannada cinema as well as Rajkumar's career.

Devudu's novel "Mahakshatriya" deals with King Nahusha's life and his tenure as Lord Indra. Devudu has made some subtle changes in the original story from Mahabharata and transformed Nahusha into a great character. The various aspects of use, misuse and abuse of powers are dealt in this novel in a simple and yet effective way. It is a book that all those who exercise powers ought to read and appreciate, especially in the present times. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Talent Crisis And Solutions

Banking industry all over the world is passing through tough times presently. Indian banking industry is right now facing perhaps the biggest crisis in its history. A series of scams and huge defaults in the corporate sector has pushed the industry to its worst crisis. The banking system of country which successfully withstood the banking crisis of 2008 is facing its most difficult test a decade later. Questions are being asked about necessity of continuing of Public Sector Banks. Certain developments in private sector banks are also posing serious questions. Bankers are passing through turbulent times. On the other side, there is abundant scope for growth in line with the growing economy of the country.  Growth opportunities in resource mobilisation are constantly increasing with channelizing of savings from domestic sector and inflow of investment funds from abroad.  Financial inclusion targeting sections of the society who were left behind earlier is also contributing its mite here.  Expectations of higher growth in the economy are likely to drive credit growth further and provide channels for profitable credit dispensation, despite concerns of bad loans (NPAs).  Higher demand for credit from service sector and savings generated from “Generation Y” is contributing its share for growth of the economy and thereby BFSI sector.  Higher absorption of technology leading to development of innovative products coupled with upswing in use of alternate delivery channels (ADCs) would ensure the continuation of this trend for the next decade.

Amidst all these happenings, there is a major cause of concern for the BFSI industry.  Challenges on the financial front can be met with the available resources, innovation in technology and product range. But needs on the human resources front requires a focused and revised strategy to remedy the crisis that has already set in and is threatening the very foundations of the industry.  This is an attempt to discusses the situation prevailing in the industry on this front and suggests alternative strategies for talent management in the banks.      


Social control over banks followed by nationalisation of major banks in 1969 and 1980 changed banking in India from “Class banking” to “Mass Banking”.  Large branch expansion in the 1970s and early 1980s was a watershed in the Indian Banking Industry.  Priority sector lending and expansion in rural and unbanked areas necessitated opening of large number of branches in nooks and corners of the country.  Banking operations were handled manually at that time and most of the operations were done by clerical and first level officers.  Entire operations were being done as per the directives of RBI and banks did not have any freedom to frame their own policies to develop and monitor different segments of banking. The manpower requirement was met by large scale recruitment of clerical and Probationary Officers. Basic knowledge of RBI and bank guidelines was the requirement for these posts.  There was hardly any need for additional skills or specialist employees. Even credit management was subject to “Selective Credit Controls” and “Credit Authorisation”. Mere recruitment of young men and women from the employment market was sufficient to meet the HR needs. As there was no additional skill requirement at higher levels, internal promotions took care of the requirement at the middle and higher levels as well. Internal training system of banks with apex training colleges supported by regional/zonal training centres met the needs of training and development of staff and officers.

Financial Sector reforms and advent of Globalisation and Liberalisation in 1991 marked the next major development in both business composition and HR processes.  This brought in increased liberalisation and freedom to banks for formulating their own policies, products and strategies.  Large scale computerisation and use of new technology changed the complexion of the industry and its contours.  Introduction of “Core Banking Solutions” (CBS) and advent of new generation of private sector banks changed rules of the game.  Focus on the business front shifted from “Deposit Mobilisation” and “Priority Sector lending” to “Profitability”. Each branch was expected to be a profit centre and cost cutting became a major action point for banks. Increased use of CBS and other technology applications resulted in large scale redundancy of staff brought up on manual operations. These staff members, most of them past middle age, struggled to adapt to computerised environment. Recruited in the 1970s and 1980s, they were drawing high emoluments and were not involved in useful work.  They could not take up the type of jobs that were generated by the new environment. Thus banks were forced to think in terms of “Golden Handshake” and “VRS schemes”.  Staff members were encouraged to seek early retirement and a “Recruitment Holiday” replaced the basic HR function of recruitment and training.

The looming crisis     

The above developments were not only necessary but inevitable too. Stiff competition and stress on net interest margins were indeed forcing cost cuts. Staff expenses being one of the biggest non-interest demands naturally received due attention. But in the maze of profitability and cost-cutting one vital factor was missed; that of requirement of people with enhanced skills to run specialised areas of bank’s functions. Talent management was lost sight of; recruitment freeze took its toll and gradually shortage of skilled manpower started showing its impact. Banks tried to train some of the existing staff to man these specialised seats and met with limited success.

Early part of the last decade saw many more changes in the use of technology and addition of a variety of products and services. Technology made large numbers of staff doing manual work redundant, but started creating many new roles requiring manpower with higher skills.  Universal banking and providing a wide range of complex products and services needed highly skilled manpower.  Ban on recruitment had reduced quantity of manpower. Now there was shortage of quality of manpower as well. A crisis was looming in the horizon.

Present scenario

Financial Inclusion has brought banking to a similar stage as it was during nationalisation. More and more branches are being opened in unbanked areas to cover every single person in the country with banking facility. All extension counters have been converted into full-fledged branches due to CBS advantage. There is a higher need for specialised branches to take care of international trade finance, hi-tech agriculture, investment banking and portfolio management and NRI banking. Risk management and technology management have become new focus areas.  The shortage of staff created by a long recruitment holiday is showing its effects. Above all, large number of officers recruited in the 70s and 80s started retiring. The vacuum in terms of numbers is confounded by vacuum in talent availability.

In order to fill the vacancies arising out of retirement of existing staff, recruitment has been speeded up. This has somewhat filled the gap of manpower requirement at lower levels. But they are too inexperienced to handle higher responsibilities. Faster promotions to higher levels have become the norm. Some banks could not find the required number of candidates to meet the targets for internal promotions even after relaxing eligibility norms in terms of length of service. Promoted officers are with inadequate experience. A yawning gap in requirements for managing positions and potential available in promotes has surfaced. Retirement of over 150,000 mid-level managers in the next three years is going to increase the problem manifold. There is a severe shortage of trained manpower at each level in middle management. This will extend to senior management level in a few years. This situation threatens the very foundations of sound management of banks in the coming years. This also has a significant impact on the productivity and quality of banking services to the clientele, many of whom are from the next generation. A hallmark of this generation is the expectation of quick and quality service and impatience to tolerate inefficiency. The situation requires drastic remedies and without any delay.

A part of this manpower gap is being filled by recruitment of specialist officers directly to middle level manager positions. Credit management, risk management and technical officers are thus recruited. These people are also to be trained in some degree of basic banking operations before they can effectively discharge their duties for their assigned special positions.

One possible solution to this crisis is providing intensive and focused training to these newly promoted and recruited middle level managers. Who should give them this type of focused training? Banks internal training system is unable to meet this need as senior trainers have themselves retired or retiring shortly.  There is a shortage of skilled trainers and internal training programs tend to become stereotyped in such situations. Exposure of the middle level managers to interaction with similar workforce from other banks will bring a whiff of fresh air in the training dimensions. Cost of extending the training infrastructure is also an issue in the background of shortage of resources. Any extension of the training infrastructure would result in an unused capacity in a few years as the situation will reach a new equilibrium in the next five or six years.

Importance of middle management

Middle management professionals are the key functionaries of any institution. While the Generals plan a war and the foot soldiers fight it out, it is the Majors and Colonels that actually win the wars. Middle management cadre acts as the bridge between front line staff and customers. They are the key decision makers in the chain with front line staff on one side and policy makers at the other. Lending portfolio and recovery mechanism is the key to the profitability of any bank. Large volume of credit dispensation in banks takes place through “ELBs and VLBs”. These extra-large branches and very large branches are usually headed by AGMs and Chief Managers. These positions are endowed with substantial credit sanction powers, often ranging up to Rupees 10 crores to 20 crores. Higher corporate lending also takes place through such branches and monitoring health of such Borrowers accounts requires specialised skills.  Similarly, these positions are crucial in administrative and corporate offices as well as all major implementation and monitoring is done by such officers. A quick action by banks now can retrieve the situation of shortage and skill deficiency and remedy it before these high positions are managed by junior and under equipped managers.   

The solution

The possible solutions for resolving the present “Talent management Crisis” in the BFSI industry revolves on the following key areas:    
  • Preparing a blueprint of manpower requirement for the next 5 to 10 years, especially at the junior and middle management levels. Such plan should take into account projected requirement for expansion as well.
  • Recruiting junior level (entry level) officers after identifying them and getting them trained by a reputed training agency/institution, on a no-cost basis.
  • Meeting identified training requirements of existing staff without creating idle capacity in the internal training establishment.
  • Providing exposure to the middle level managers already promoted and likely to be promoted shortly in training programs with similar managers from other banking institutions.
  • Utilising the services of experienced training professionals and ex-industry trainers and leaders to bridge the trainer requirement gap.
  • Tying up with a strategic training partner who provides bank-specific training, both in general banking and specialised functional areas. Short term training programs, say one to two weeks for middle level managers is the key to bridge the training gap.
  • Retraining the managers put through such training at periodical interval to update skills and build confidence levels.
  • Concentrating on core business activities and enlisting the support of a trusted partner for jointly managing the present talent crisis.
  • Well established and reputed training institutions who have specialised in training manpower for banking industry have a vital role in supporting such initiatives. The global standard infrastructure, well-set training system coupled with experienced faculty meets the important requirements for conducting such programs. Programs may be tailor made for the requirements of each bank drawing from the extensive support of each bank.

The present “Talent Management Crisis” in banks can be met by aligning with a suitable strategic training partner who provides cost-effective and competitive model of training to both existing employees as well as ready-to-employ candidates on an on-going basis. Providing specialised re-training to middle level managers provides an effective core management team for the present and a pool of talent for meeting future top level management personnel thereafter.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

I Am Tandon

This was in the same summer month, forty four years ago in 1974. They were the early years of my banking life. I was posted in a busy very large branch with total staff strength of more than sixty persons. The bank branches in those days had high counters with high chairs, and the feet of the person sitting on them never touched the ground. Foot rests were part of the counter to provide comfort to those feet. Branch Managers used to be in and out of branches on business visits. Branch staff did their normal work without much interaction with the branch manager as all functions of running the branch were taken care by the second in command. I was assigned a table at the end of the banking counter, just by the side of the wicket gate that allowed entrance inside the banking hall. Most of the customers work was done when they stood outside the counter. Very few came inside the counter for their work. My basic work related to receiving documents from customers against acknowledgement and attending the clearing house duties at Reserve Bank of India, located close to the branch at a walking distance. All work was manual with computers being unheard of. Even calculators were not around. The only calculator available was a book called "Kapoor's Calculator", a book with various tables for interest calculation that was done manually. 

On one such busy day, my branch manager entered the branch through the main door with our Regional Manager by his side. Entire South India was one region in those days and there was no system of Zonal or Circle offices. I recognised the Regional Manager as I had seen him once before. As they crossed the wicket gate and passed by my table, I greeted them and they acknowledged the greeting. They moved into the Branch Manager's cabin located behind me. I was still standing after greeting them when a tall distinguished gentleman entered the branch. He was carrying a leather bag which used to open at the top. Such bag was commonly carried in those days by medical representatives. He passed the counter, entered through the wicket gate and placed his bag on my table. He smiled and extended his right hand and as a reflex action I also extended my right hand. He shook my hands and said, "I am Tandon".

After shaking hands with me he went to the next person and continued meeting the other staff members. My Branch Manager and Regional Manager came out of the cabin to find that he was meeting all the staff at the branch. They waited for him to finish this round and later went into the manager's cabin. They stayed there for about half an hour and later went out together.

I went to my Assistant Manager and asked him who this Tandon was. He also did not know, but said that one Tandon was our new Chairman and Managing Director. It was confirmed to us later that he was indeed Shri Prakash Lal Tandon, CMD of PNB. 

Prakash Lal Tandon (1911-2004) is considered as one of the best managers and most influential business leaders our country has produced. Born in Punjab, he was trained in London and was a Chartered Accountant before he moved into management roles. He was the first Indian Chairman of Hindustan Lever Limited, in 1961. He was a pioneer of management education in India. His student life in Manchester, UK and professional practice there gave him deep insights into sound management practices which he put to great use wherever he went later in his life. He was an advisor to top leadership in the government at that time and earned high respect due to his sound advice and integrity. After his stint in HLL, he was made chairman of State Trading Corporation (STC) in 1968. When he developed differences with the cabinet minister handling STC, he resigned the post. His high rating in the government circles did not permit losing his services. Government made him the CMD of Punjab National Bank (PNB) in 1971, which was one of the banks nationalised in 1969. This was perhaps the first instance when a non-banker and industry outsider was brought in as the CMD of a bank.

Banks like PNB in those days had a CMD and there were no executive directors. There was only one General Manager at the Head Office. We have come a long way since when such banks have 3 EDs and 40 to 50 General Managers. P L Tandon brought in various changes in PNB in his years of leadership at the bank. The present logo and fonts of name boards were among many changes brought out by him. Major branch expansions took place in those years and PNB became a truly All-India institution under his leadership.

Tandon was known for his talent spotting among the younger generation and encouraging them to take up higher responsibilities. His speeches in the AGM of the companies he headed were considered as essays in corporate management. He played a key role in setting up of IIM at Ahmedabad. He was highly respected in the academic circles as well. He was also associated with the National Council of Applied Economic Research.

Tandon was also known as an authority on Punjab affairs and is author of a trilogy of books: Punjabi Century, Beyond Punjab and Return to Punjab. His another book "Banking Century - A Short History of Banking in India and the Pioneer - Punjab National Bank" chronicles the growth of banking in India during the last century and the role of PNB in it as the bank was an integral part of it. He lived a full life of 93 years and remained active even after retirement from management roles.


Prakash Lal Tandon is remembered in banking even today for yet another reason. In 1974 RBI constituted a working group under the chairmanship of P L Tandon to study and submit a report on working capital financing. This group did tremendous work and submitted a report in 1975. Inventory holding by various industries was studied in detail and recommendations were made covering various aspects of working capital finance. Current Ratio was brought into centerstage in working capital financing. The committee shifted the focus of working capital finance from security-based lending to need-based lending. The MPBF Method (Maximum Permissible Bank Finance Method) brought in by Tandon Committee is still used in working capital assessment of entities, with suitable modifications to suit present times. Working capital financing learning is never complete without taking the name of Tandon. 

PUNJAB NATIONAL BANK was a product of swadeshi movement and started operations on Baishakhi Day in 1895, at Lahore, in the undivided Punjab. Punjab Kesari Lala Lajpat Roy was among the personalities who inspired setting up the bank founded on nationalistic values. Today, the bank is sadly passing through one of the worst crisis in its history. The bank has weathered many storms in its over 120 year journey. Partition of the country in 1947 and losing many branches and records in Pakistan was one such testing phase. One can be confident that It would come out of the present crisis as well and emerge stronger in the next few years. 

The memory of Prakash Lal Tandon and his management lessons are worthy of remembering in these difficult days and all concerned can derive inspiration from those ideals and values.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Your Name Is On The Tree

The village school teacher had come to the bank to withdraw some money from his personal account. I had recently taken charge of that branch. After his work was done, he came to the Manager's room (a room was made into a manager's cabin in the village building housing the bank branch) to discuss about a "Gramsabha" (village meeting) to be held for identifying some beneficiaries for the loan schemes sponsored by the government. Among the few educated people in the nearby villages (this was some thirty years ago), he was respected by the villagers and helpful in conducting such meetings in an orderly manner. Gramsabha can be a tricky affair due to various political affiliations and local politics. Persons commanding the respect of all villagers can be very handy in managing such meetings. This teacher was one of such personalities.

A farmer was waiting outside the room to meet me. He had apparently walked some distance in the hot sun in the summer month. As the talk with the teacher would take sometime, I called him to the room to attend to him. He reluctantly came in as the teacher was sitting in front of me. He was carrying four tender coconuts in his hands and placed them near the door. He stood before us and did not sit on the chair despite being asked to do so. I told him that I would not talk to him unless he was seated. He sat on the chair only after the teacher also urged him to sit. He wanted to grow some Tomato in his land and wanted a crop loan. I told him that I would visit his village the next morning and see his land and attend to his request. He thanked me and the teacher and left the room. As he was leaving, I reminded him to take the tender coconuts he had kept near the door which he had forgotten while going out.

The teacher started laughing and told me that I was punishing the poor fellow. i did not understand what was the import of his statement. "He has carried the tender coconuts in the hot son this far to give it to you. You are asking him to take it back all the way in the hot sun again. Do not trouble him by asking him to take them back. Please accept them. This is the way villagers show respect to people like you", he said. I took out a ten rupee note from my purse, handed it to him and asked him to have tea in the roadside tea shop. He looked at the teacher and after he nodded his head, took the note hesitantly and went away, leaving the coconuts at the door.

There are regular visits of many officials to villages for various reasons. Villagers who grow fruits and vegetables in their lands believe in sharing some of it with visiting officials. Seasonality decides the availability of such fruits and vegetables. As the officials attend to their work, someone in the village takes the lead and collects such items. The bag is kept in the visitor's vehicle by the time the work is done and the visitor is ready to leave the village. This is a courtesy extended by the villagers and is accepted as well. It is neither demanded nor refused when offered. That is the way life goes on in the villages. At least, that was how it was in those days. 

The bus was overcrowded when it pulled to a stop at the roadside shelter of the village, on the hot Saturday afternoon. I somehow got inside the bus and was wondering how the journey would be for the next hundred kilo meters. The bus conductor always has a seat near the back entrance of the bus. Conductors are unable to sit there when the bus is full and they keep moving inside the bus selling tickets and collecting money. But he always has the right of sitting there and can ask anyone sitting there to get up and vacate the seat. The conductor had got down at the stop and he asked the person sitting in his seat to vacate the same and asked me to sit there. This was a big relief and I accepted it without a question. 

A villager entered the bus behind me carrying a big bag and asked me to make place below the seat to keep the bag. I told him to keep it elsewhere as sitting on the seat with the bag below the seat was inconvenient on the long journey. The conductor intervened politely and told me to make way for the bag. As the seat itself was given to me by his courtesy, I complied without murmur now. The journey continued on the hot day, but sitting near the window reduced the discomfort to some extent. But the bag below the seat had left very little space for the feet to move. The bus finally reached the city bus stand. I was the last to get down. As I got down from from the bus, the conductor asked me to wait and said he would get an autorikshaw for me. I told him not to worry. He insisted on hailing an auto, got one and asked a villager to put the bag that was kept below my feet in the bus in my auto. I looked at him in surprise.

"Sir, this bag is given by Manjunath to be sent with you. He has kept some fruits for you in the bag. I have been told to handle this. Please take this as otherwise Manjunath will scold me", he said. I thanked him and proceeded home with the bag in the auto.

The bag contained an assorted variety of mango fruits. They were indeed very tasty. Manjunath had probably chosen the best of fruits available in his garden. The "Malgova" variety fruits were especially tasty and the best we ever had.


Manjunath was a young progressive farmer who also worked as a Lecturer in the nearby town college. He came to the bank in the next few days for some work. "What did you do Manjunath?", I asked. "Sir, I had to arrange with the bus conductor this way or else you would have refused to take the bag", he said. I thanked him for the sweet fruits. "I will be in this village at the most for one more year. But your Malgova mangos have captivated my taste buds. Please give me some fruits from your garden every year, wherever I am. I will pay for it for sure", I said.

"Sir, this is a special tree in my grove. I do not sell the fruits of this tree. It is reserved for my family and friends like you. From now on, Your name is on the tree. The fruits belong to you. They will always be yours. That will be my pleasure", he said.


I have never been able to go that village again and see that tree. But sweeter than the mangos were the words of that farmer. Those words bring sweetness whenever they are remembered. There is no seasonality for that. It was one of the pleasures derived while serving in rural areas.