Sashidhar Jagdishan has been with HDFC Bank for 24 years now. Starting out as a manager with the bank in 1996, Jagdishan donned many hats before he was named successor to one of the most celebrated bankers in India today.
The "change agent" credited for HDFC Bank's digital transformation, is not to be found on Twitter, or on LinkedIn, and in fact has no social media presence at all. "Sashidhar is a very private person. You won't ever see him hosting parties, or attending any for that matter," said an insider who knows him well.
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A Mumbai-boy, Jagdishan grew up in the quiet suburban neighbourhood of Matunga where he studied in Don Bosco High School, after which he went on to pursue his bachelors in Physics from Mumbai University. He is also a qualified Chartered Accountant, and holds a Master's degree in Economics of Money, Banking & Finance from the University of Sheffield, UK. He worked as a senior officer in the country financial control division of Deutsche Bank in Mumbai, before he quit and joined HDFC Bank in 1996.
The outgoing chief executive officer (CEO) Aditya Puri told CNBC-TV18 in an interview this morning, "Jagdishan has been working with me for 24 years but far more intensively ever since he became the change-agent and I am delighted. I do believe he has the necessary skills and I am delighted that HDFC Bank is in good hands."
At HDFC Bank, he first served as manager from 1996 to 1999, became the finance head in 1999 and was promoted to the position of chief financial officer of the bank in 2008. He continued in this role for over ten years, before he was named the bank's change agent in 2019.
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It is his role in finance that helped him secure the top job at the country's most valuable bank today, and gave him an edge over his competitor and the second shortlisted candidate - Kaizad Bharucha, insiders say.
"Both Kaizad and Sashi have been with the bank for a long time, if you think about it," said another insider who did not wish to be named. "HDFC Bank is widely owned by investors and so to have their trust was important," he said. This person explained, “Sashi has been going for all investor roadshows of the bank, first with Paresh (Sukhtankar) and later on with Puri. As far as investors are concerned, he was the face of the bank and is pretty well known in the community."
Bharucha, on the other hand, has not been on the investor-facing front, and has been an operational guy, he said, adding that it was this benefit that gave Sashi the edge. Bharucha is an executive director with the bank and heads its wholesale operations.
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Some believe Sashidhar's selection over his colleague may cause some friction, unless the board is able to convince Bharucha of a position good enough for him to stay on. When asked if he may be considered for a deputy managing director role - once performed by Paresh Sukhtankar - one of the people quoted earlier said, "It is up to the board to decide, but they have to offer him something."
When CNBC-TV18 reached out to the bank's parent entity, HDFC Ltd, its CEO Keki Mistry commented, "Sashidhar was the unanimous choice of both HDFC and HDFC Bank, as well as of the selection committee, there is no doubt in that."
"Sashi is an amiable person, and he is well regarded in the bank," said another person at HDFC Bank who did not wish to be quoted. "He is well travelled, well spoken, and easy to like as a person," he said.
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Puri added, "He cares about people, he is motivational, he is a very thorough executor and he understands the business, and over a period of time the people in the bank love him."
"What we hear from many employees is that Sashi is a hard task master and what is essential is to ensure the stellar execution track record that HDFC Bank has built over the years. Also, in our marketing with investors across the globe, Sashi was their preferred choice," said Suresh Ganapathy of Macquarie in his note today.
He further added, "In an uncertain environment like this, we believe an internal candidate who is in sync with the outgoing CEO Puri is the right choice. Sashi comes with a very diverse experience having handled multiple functions in the bank and hence we believe he is the appropriate choice."
Jagdishan is currently the group head of finance, human resources, legal & secretarial, administration, infrastructure, corporate communications, corporate social responsibility and the strategic change agent of the bank. He will take on the CEO’s role after Puri's retirement on October 26.
When asked what his successor’s top priorities should be as he takes over as CEO, Puri said the first would be to take banking services to the length and breadth of India, and increase penetration in semi-urban and rural India, train people and offer an even wider range of products.Jagdishan takes over at a time when the macro environment has taken a turn for the worse. While HDFC Bank enjoyed a great run under Puri, consistently delivering market beating growth through good and bad times, it has recently been facing challenges Of its own with senior level exits and a controversy over imprudent practices discovered in its vehicle finance arm. Jagdishan would have to tackle these head on.