Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXIV No. 4, June 1-15, 2024

He quietly transformed ICICI from a development bank to a corporate bank

-- by Sushila Ravindranath

I met Narayanan Vaghul in 1992 when he was chosen by a panel consisting of who’s who of industry as the Business man of the year, an award given by Buiness India magazine. I was to write the cover story on him. It was a wonderful experience to meet this brilliant manwho was so unassuming and accesible. He had total clarity of thought.

Vaghul was then the chairman of Industrial Credit and Investment of India, ICICI. He had had a stellar banking career. ICICI had played a major role in developing industry by providing long term finance for plant and machinery. Although the government domination of financial markets had not yet been broken, things were about to change.

During his tenure Vaghul had anticipated the changes and geared ICICI to become flexible and capable of handling the challenges of competitive financial markets. He showed how an individual can rebuild an institution and make it dynamic. Vaghul’s career path was chosen by his Tam Bram background typical of the 50’s. He appeared for the test to choose probationary officers for the State Bank of India. He passed the test with the top rank and joined the bank in 1957.

Narayanan Vaghul. Picture courtesy: The Hindu.

He started as a probationary assistant handling variety of responsibilities in various branches of the Madras Circle of the SBI. Some time in the early 60’s the legendary banker R.K. Talwar was appointed deputy secretary and treasurer of the Madras circle. Vaghul caught his eye. Talwar moved him to the Madras administrative office. Talwar also recommended Vaghul for a posting in Bombay. According to his colleagues of that period Vaghul was proving to be outstanding. Talwar gave him different responsibilities and Vaghul handled all of them with skill.

Banking industry was also undergoing tremendous changes, with 14 banks being nationalised. After brief stints in bank related jobs, Vaghul was offered the chairmanship of ICICI. He was persuaded to accept it.
He was the first outsider to head ICICI. As we wrote in Business India, he gave ICICI ability character and a sense of vision. He quietly transformed ICICI from a development bank to a corporate bank. Under him ÌCICI became an open organisation where anybody could knock on the door and get an appointment. He actively encouraged younger people and women. It became a dynamic institution.

“I grieve not just for a Titan of Indian Business, but for one of the most inspiring and generous people I have ever had the good fortune to encounter,” said Anand Mahindra. “My greatest mentor breathed his last. I was blessed to know him as my mentor and friend. RIP Mr. Vaghul – your legend lives on for posterity,” said Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, executive chairperson of Biocon.

Vaghul remained as sharp as ever till the end. He was friends with top industrialists, and policy makers. But he retained his simplicity. He was always willing to discuss things with me. He always helped me clear my head. There was never any airs about him.

He is going to be missed by everybody who knew him. I like many others have lost a mentor and a dear friend.

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