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.

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story, your blogs are like a compass that activate the magnet of curiosity and knowledge and wisdom in the pupils.

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  2. Classic connection between paragraphs, covering work of life in few lines

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  3. Sir you have a grt style of story telling connecting past present ... Would love to see you on QUORA. You should really try it out.

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  4. These stories are reminders of Indian Citizens who have the real qualities of a leader. Being kind, humble and doing things which benefits all people is a remarkable trait of CMD Sri Prakash Lal Tandon of Punjab National Bank. Also the founder of this bank Sri Keasri Lala Lajpat Roy who had the vision to start a bank based on Nationalistic Values. My hats off for you for telling us about these leading historical personalities of India. UR...

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  5. We are privileged to know about history of PNB, one of its greatest leaders Mr.Tondon, and his role in the banking industry.... Thank you sir

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  6. Excellent insight into the role played by Mr.Tandon in banking industry.

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  7. Mr. Tandon used to be the great man of reference with respect for us young PNBites in the late seventies. Feeling proud to read this tribute to him and to the great legacy of PNB.

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  8. Mant a times presence of pne individual makes akl differenxe in any organization and his. Version becomes strength of that sector.In my experiznce there was one enginees Mr Samant in mafatlal whom peopme xonsider as Bheeshma putamaha.there is parzllak to that ex military man in textle.though i dint meet him aftr fifty five years of his dearh he riles textile engg thru humble engineers like le and many who have heard of him.many enguneers un his guru parampara attained position of g m like me which is very difficult in tewxtile

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  9. Unfortunately PNB was not so blessed to continue to enjoy the leadership of towering personalities of integrity like Tandon and Jilani. The gentleman that followed were ‘politicians’ in the garb of ‘professionals’, lacked vision and exposure and were driven by short term goals when business ethics and commitment to the Institution took a back seat. The strong foundation so assiduously laid down was slowly shaken over a decade and half and the decay had unmistakably set in resulting in the present mess. All is perhaps still not lost and the Bank has the potential to regain its primitive glory if only a no nonsense level 5 leadership is allowed to take charge with a carefully formulated turnaround plan spread over the next five years.

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  10. Sir ur thought of writing about banking imbibe us lot to remember through this kind of story.

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  11. Sir you are an inspiration for everyone. It was a goosebumping moment when I read how Mr Tandon came to your table introduce himself. You are great leader a great banker and a great teacher. Thankful to god for meeting you in my life.

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  12. Sir i dint feel i did read, I felt like I heard it from you directly as I did many times... fantastic narration sir...

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  13. Your words always create curiosity and sense of pride among young POs like me.. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for sharing such wonderful stories.

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  14. Very informative and insighfull especially for bankers &Rx bankers.Tandon is remembered more for his committee recommendations by otherbank (other than PNB)employees. Thanks for throwing light on his excellent professional & personal credentials.

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  15. Very informative. Took me back memory lane of those days of Banking.Yes. Leaders like Mr.Tandon are the need of the hour.

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  16. Classic re-introduction of Sri.PL Tandon to the generation of bankers who have not seen or worked with him. Yes, PNB with its deep routes and 120 years of experience behind it, should not find it difficult to come out of the present short term crisis. We are confident of PNB bouncing back to its past glory and lead the banking industry from front.

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  17. True, our belived PNB faced many storms during last 124 years, taken over more than 16 Banks to its fold and it is still safe,sound & confident of colorfully coming out of the present sad state of affairs to maintain its past glory.

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  18. In mid 90s I met him at Surat. His son was a professor at REC Surat.It was a good experience.

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  19. Nice memoir compiled on the great man.
    Lakshminarayana K

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  20. Those days CMDs were simple and met all. I too remember Shri O P Gupta meeting all in Bangalore City branch.

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  21. Very good article sir..please keep it up..

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  22. What a phogenic memory you have, it was very interesting!!!!

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