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BW Businessworld

A Banker With A Difference

P. J. Nayak bagged the Lifetime Achievement Award for his yeoman service to the banking and financial world

Photo Credit : Subhabrata Das


It’s not easy to describe P.J. Nayak. Is he a bureaucrat or a banker? In his 25-year-long career in the financial services world, he has worn many hats. As a career bureaucrat, he had a ringside view of the Indian economy from North Block during 1990-95 as the country took its first steps to unshackle the economy. As joint secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs, his stint was one which saw far reaching changes in the capital markets — the doing away of the Controller of Capital Issues, the setting up of Sebi, depositories, and off-shore floats by Indian companies.
BW Businessworld asked him if he here were not a bureaucrat, what would have been his calling. “Academics”, pat came the reply. We tried to get him to open up so as to better know the “person” behind his public image. To no avail. A thinking man, in his avatar as chairman and chief executive officer of what is now Axis Bank (the erstwhile UTI Bank), he made sure it stood out; that it was bench marked to the best in the market. As a few new private bank license holders played wildly and paid the price, Nayak ensured the bank stuck to the strict and narrow. Again while the bank was set up as a private sector bank, its parentage was public sector — and it is to Nayak’s credit that he made sure the bank spun on an Axis of its own.

Not one to shy away from taking a stand, he went on leave when the ill-informed alluded that the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report had mentioned him in the stillborn merger of Axis Bank with the now defunct Global Trust Bank. He opted to quit in April 2007 when Mint Road put a rider on the renewal of his term — that the post of chairman and managing director be split. He came back after this conditionality was dropped.

 Nayak Unplugged
 * Since 2014: Associated with the banking sector in Sri Lanka as chairman of the Board of Directors of Union Bank of Colombo
* 2010-2013: Country head of Morgan Stanley
* 2000-09: Chairman & CEO of Axis Bank. During his stint, Axis Bank grew to become the country’s fourth largest bank by market capitalisation
* 1996-99: Executive trustee of the Unit Trust of India

In 2014, Nayak chaired the Committee on Governance of Bank Boards, constituted by the Reserve Bank of India. The report will surely go down in the annals of Indian banking as one which laid threadbare the warts in the country’s banking system in plain speak. It remains to be seen if the establishment has the stomach to implement the committee’s suggestion — but in its scope, it no less a milestone than the twin Narasimham Committee reports.

So how is one to sum up Nayak? We say — he is simply a banker with a difference.

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 08-02-2016)