Kochhar named ICICI Bank chief executive

Mumbai, Dec 19 (IANS) Chanda Kochhar was formally named the next chief executive of ICICI Bank, India’s largest in the private sector, here Friday. She will take over the reins May 1 from K.V. Kamath who replaces N. Vaghul as the bank’s non-executive chairman.

Kochhar, 46, a veteran with the bank and its joint managing director, has been serving on its board of directors since 2001. Having worked in virtually every department, her appointment came as no surprise given her administrative capabilities.

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But she wasn’t always the only woman executive on the board.

Till recently, the bank’s top leadership had two other women. Lalita Gupte still heads the bank’s venture capital firm, ICICI Ventures. Kalpana Morparia was its deputy managing director before she quit to head JP Morgan’s operations in India.

Kochhar, nevertheless, was a hot favourite for long, with Fortune magazine naming her in the list of 50 most powerful women in international business as also in the last year’s list of 50 most powerful women in the world.

“She oversees more than half the bank’s $6.7 billion revenue, its presence in 18 countries, and its involvement in most overseas acquisitions by Indian companies,” said the magazine.

“ICICI Bank faces slowing growth. The retail credit business has gone from yearly gains of 35 percent to single-digit increases. Kochhar is pursuing new business such as corporate credit,” the magazine added in a later listing.

The 46-year-old executive, however, said that a change in management was not part of her strategy. “There would be no changes in the management for now,” she told reporters here, soon after being named for the top slot.

“But there will be some structural changes in the management in May. We have a strong process of corporate governance and will select candidates accordingly.”

It is not going to be a smooth ride for the high-flying executive of one of the biggest lenders in the country as India grapples with the current meltdown.

However, Kochhar said that the global slowdown and high interest rate would not have much of an impact on the credit quality of the bank’s loan portfolio, which was growing between 5 to 10 percent, in 2008-09.

Kamath, also present at the media briefing, said he was optimistic about the overall financial scenario. “We will see an environment of single-digit lending rates and double-digit growth about a year from now,” he said.

Kochhar earned a post-graduate degree in management from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and started her career as a trainee in 1984 with ICICI, then known as the Industrial Credit and Investment Corp of India, at its project finance department.

Prior to becoming a member of the board, she held leadership positions across all key businesses, including corporate lending, project finance and retail banking. She was a key figure in the team that established ICICI Bank during the 1990s and subsequently headed the infrastructure finance and major client groups.

Kochhar was particularly credited with building the retail business, guiding it from its nascent stages to establish a 1,400-strong branch and a huge 4,530-ATM network.