He had battled cancer for two years, for which he had taken a sabbatical from the numerous boards of directors he was a part of. Notably, he was chairman of Interglobe Aviation (which operates the IndiGo airline) and was recently considered for the chairman’s post of ICICI Bank — he had asked not be considered, because of ill health. He was also on the board of State Bank of India (SBI) and Tata Capital Financial Services.
M D Mallya was also a jury member for Business Standard’s best banker award.
His reputation was as a fine banker, one who would not take a decision in haste and without knowing the client well. “He was a thorough banker, a bit old-style, who would travel all over the country and hear from people about his clients, not just sign a deal based on papers,” said a former senior colleague at Bank of Baroda (BoB).
One result was that as the general environment for government-owned banks had deteriorated, BoB was a relatively better performer in terms of stressed assets. Mallya’s workaholic attitude rubbed on to his staff, who would own up their part in the bank and worked as its ambassadors.
Earlier, he had taken charge at Bank of Maharashtra when it was going through a very difficult time and turned it around. For this he was awarded the chairmanship of a much larger BoB. He often used to tell his staff, “Don’t listen to even the chairman. Do what is best for the bank. You are the bank’s ambassadors.”
Nor was he very comfortable with the opulent office of a chairman at a public sector bank.
“These are too much! But, I need to be part of the picture for the sake of the bank’s prestige. Personally, I would prefer if they had given me a table at a corner where I could just work,” Mallya once told this correspondent at BoB’s opulent corner office at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai.
An engineer turned banker, he had a management qualifications from the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. He had started his banking career in August 1976, from state-owned Corporation Bank.
As a senior officer there, with responsibility to develop a pan-Indian business, he travelled the length and breadth of the country, developing good connections with business houses.
This helped him as an executive director at Oriental Bank of Commerce, and subsequently as chairman and managing director of both Bank of Maharashtra and BoB.
Colleagues fondly remember Mallya as a person who never treated anyone shabbily. To people much below him in rank, his behaviour was always humane; professionally, he is reputed to have never denied anyone what was due.
“His tenure at BoB was the happiest, when people worked without any stress,” said the colleague quoted earlier.