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LUNCH WITH BS: Rana Kapoor

The ideal banker says Yes to each proposal

Bhupesh Bhandari  |  New Delhi 

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Yes Bank's CEO Rana Kapoor discusses the various deals that defined his career.

In ancient China, tea houses were places where people settled scores with their enemies, drew up conspiracies, and cut deals with bankers. Appropriately enough, I am at the Tea House of the August Moon in Taj Palace waiting for Rana Kapoor, managing director and CEO of

In the past 10 years or so, Kapoor has risen steadily in the world of high finance. He brought Rabo Bank to India, engineered Tata Tea's takeover of Tetley and two years ago, branched off to start a bank. After office hours, he can be seen in the company of glamorous people "" M F Hussain once celebrated his birthday at Kapoor's house in downtown Mumbai.

Kapoor calls me to say his flight from Mumbai has been delayed and he will be late by half an hour. I order Diet Coke and kimchi salad to keep me company.

I had offered to meet at the hotel's Indian restaurant, over a wholesome deep-fried Punjabi meal, but Kapoor insisted on the Chinese restaurant "" a heavy lunch could slow down his moves for the rest of the day.

With nothing to do, my mind begins to take notice of the surroundings. Tea House is spacious. There are dragons carved out of wood on the roof, the furniture has a Chinese feel and the crockery is sparkling white. It has snowed heavily in the hills of north India and a cool breeze is sweeping across the plains.

Sitting at a corner table next to a window, I can see a woman sitting next to the swimming pool, soaking in the weak sun. She reminds of an old custom in the hills "" when it snows and the mercury falls sharply, men remove all their clothes for an hour and feel warm when they put on the few clothes they have, back again.

Shaking me out of my reverie, Kapoor strides in. Dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and a blue Hermes tie, he sports a Cartier and a band of sacred red threads on his left wrist; there is no Mont Blanc peeping from his pocket.

When I enquire, he dishes out one with a transparent top from an insidious fold in his jacket. "This is from my Rabo Bank days," he says.

Both of us are famished for food and decide to place the orders first: lemon flavoured prawns for starters; crispy shredded lamb, a tofu gravy and noodles for the main course.

is seen by many as the last greenfield bank in the country, and Kapoor as the driving force behind it. In less than a year of operations, the bank is valued at Rs 1,200 crore. Preparations are in full swing to divest a 25 per cent stake for Rs 300 crore through an initial public offer (IPO).

At the moment Kapoor has his hands full with negotiating with property agents to open new branches, confabulating with designers for the interiors, launching a new communications campaign and recruiting people at key posts.

Kapoor is known to have taken on his rolls a large number of people from his earlier workplace, Rabo Bank. "Not too many; just over 30," he says, when I needle him on the subject. "But now we have reached an agreement that we will not poach from each other any further."

Kapoor studied at Frank Anthony Public School in New Delhi, and then at Sri Ram College of Commerce. "Did you always want to be a banker?" I ask him.

Balancing a prawn at the tip of his chopsticks, Kapoor tells me that he had applied to three banks after passing out of Rutgers University in 1979 "" Citi, ANZ Grindlays and Bank of America.

He was amongst the three candidates shortlisted by ANZ Grindlays. But he was rejected since the other two were sons of senior bureaucrats, he says. Meanwhile, Bank of America offered him a job and he stayed there for 15 years.

He eventually joined ANZ Grindlays in 1995 as head of its merchant banking business in India.

Within two years, he had improved its ranking in the country from the bottom of the heap to sixth.

During his days with the Grindlays, Kapoor was involved in raising funds for Jet Airways' fleet acquisition and Sunil Mittal's rollout of cellular services in Delhi.

Kapoor, it turns out, has known Mittal for over 30 years. "Both of us were 16 and used to play snooker at the Panchshila Club in South Delhi," he says, "Even at that age you could sense he was a winner."

Our food has arrived. The tofu preparation looks appetising and the lamb shreds have been fried well. I ask him about the £270-million Tata Tea-Tetley deal.

"Krishnakumar [who was heading Tata Tea at that time]," Kapoor tells me, "wanted a letter of comfort from Rabo Bank saying that we would support him right through, having failed in an earlier bid to take it over. We worked diligently with Tata Tea at every stage for several months before concluding the deal."

"So you gave such a letter of comfort to Krishnakumar?"

"Yes, we did." Kapoor reveals. That deal may have been the high watermark of Kapoor's career. From his view, his finest moment came when he, along with Ajay Kapur [his wife and Kapur's wife are sisters] and Harkirat Singh, sold his stake in Rabo Bank to set up

Singh has since moved on and Kapoor and Kapur ("I am the 'poor' of the two," Kapoor likes to say) are the two principal promoters of the bank, collectively holding a 52.5 per cent stake. "How did you swing this deal?" I prod him to tell me the whole story.

An interesting story unfolds. Sometime in February 1995, when Kapoor was all set to join ANZ Grindlays, Kapur told him that a top team from Rabo Bank, Holland, was in India scouting for opportunities.

Together with Singh, they made an audacious proposal to the visitors: there would be two joint ventures, a non-banking finance company (NBFC) and a bank.

While Rabo Bank would control the NBFC, the bank would be run by the three partners. Over the next year or so, Kapoor held secret meetings with the Rabo Bank brass in India, Singapore and Holland.

The hard work paid off and a structure was finally in place. First the NBFC was set up in 1997. The three Indian partners chipped in with an equity capital of Rs 9 crore each.

Kapoor had to actually contribute only Rs 40 lakh from his pocket, the rest of it was the joining bonus from Rabo Bank. In 2003, the three sold their stake for a cool $10 million each. The seed capital for the bank was in place.

As we wait for a second helping of noodles, I ask him what made him call his bank Yes Bank. "The credit goes to Bharat Patel [chairman, Procter & Gamble India; he is on the board of Yes Bank]," Kapoor says, "This name came far ahead of five names we had collectively researched in the market: Yes Bank, Mint Bank, My Bank, Gateway and Octra. The brand also reflects the mood of the nation , a part of the country's momentum."

Now that there is not a shred of lamb or a strand of noodle left on the table, we decide against ordering dessert. I get up and take his leave. He decides to stay on at the restaurant for another meeting.

First Published: Tue, March 08 2005. 00:00 IST
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