Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Days South - Episode No.4

The Cantonment branch at Bangalore and the Canning Street branch at Kolkata had one thing in common – both had employee strength of over 130. The headcount included the employees at our Corporate Cell and an extension counter at the Mayo Hall Court Complex. The Manager (Establishment) at the branch had a real job on hand to handle the affairs of such large number of employees. A senior gentleman called Mishra was in-charge. Mishraji was earlier an Assistant General Manager (AGM) at the erstwhile Lakshmi Commercial Bank (LCB), which got merged with our bank in the year 1985. Under the terms of merger, an AGM at the LCB had been downgraded to the scale of a Manager - Scale II in our bank!
I should mention here that working at the Corporate Cell was a question of prestige among the branch staff. Only the cream among the lot was being posted there. The handling of corporate advance accounts required certain expertise and people with the necessary aptitude and skill set were only selected for the purpose. Naturally the employees working at the main branch viewed them with some envy. I soon came to know that I had a major role in ensuring that the corporate Cell employees mingled with branch employees well and a team-spirit was maintained at the branch level.
I had to spend a considerable amount of time at the main branch also. My availability at the branch during the time of clearance of inward cheques was crucial. Many of the corporates used to issue cheques beyond their sanctioned limits. I had to authorize the passing of such cheques in consultation with SM/DM. Alternatively I had to instruct the supervisors to return such cheques. I also had to monitor the inland bills department and foreign exchange section that dealt with letters of credit, exports and imports. These sections were in the main branch and I had to deal with the officers concerned.
The Manager (non-corporate accounts) at that time was a gentleman called Kamath. Kamath was a very capable outspoken Manager and carried a tough-guy image. He frankly told me that he was interested in working as the Manager at the Corporate Cell. But he was denied that opportunity and he suspected the role of the officers working there behind this denial! Probably they were averse to his tough-guy image! However, he made it clear that he carried no grudge against me. He knew I had been posted there directly under the orders of the DGM. Kamath was transferred to another branch as Senior Manager after a short time. He keeps in touch and continues to maintain excellent relations with me till today.
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While it was true that the branch had a large number of irregular accounts, it also had quite a good number of healthy and prestigious accounts. The number one account at that time was of course that of The Printers (Mysore) Pvt Ltd – the publishers of the daily newspapers - Deccan Herald and Prajavani. The legendary founder of the group Mr. K N Guruswamy was very much there, even though the day-to-day management was carried on by the three sons of his adopted son (late) Mr. Nettakallappa. Guruswamy still kept a firm control on the financial affairs. He was the lone authorized signatory for the bank accounts. He would sign all the cheques sitting at his landmark house in Basavanagudi. He had stopped visiting the M G Road office at that time on account of old age.
The corporate account of the Printers Group was quite remunerative to the branch. The group used to maintain huge credit balances in the accounts even though it enjoyed large working capital limits. It was availing only term loans for purchase of printing machinery and used to be extremely prompt in paying the installments.
Another prestigious corporate account was that of Wipro Ltd (formerly known as Western India Vegetable Products Ltd). The company had its corporate office (InfoTech Division) at the same building where our main branch was situated. The company enjoyed huge working capital limits for their computer hardware business. It had a facility for assembling computers at Mysore. The limits were under a consortium arrangement with SBI as the leader. Our bank was the second major lender. Mr. Ashok Soota was the CEO at that time and one Mr. Krishnakumar was the Finance Manager. The company used to enjoy huge foreign letter of credit facilities for import of computer hardware.
Another prestigious corporate account at that time was that of BPL Ltd. BPL was the leader and the number one brand in colour television in those days. Our bank (branch) was the excusive bankers to the company. In fact, the corporate office of the company and the residential bungalow of TPG Nambiar, the well-known founder of the company, were situated in Church Street itself. Those were the heady days of success for the company that had been set up at Palakkad in Kerala in 1963 with the name - British Physical Laboratories.
TPG had returned to India after having worked in UK and US with a dream of making BPL a household name. He began with the manufacture of precision panel meters. He entered the television and communication equipment segment in the eighties and achieved his vision of making the brand a household name soon. But alas! The post liberalization period saw the company’s fortunes sliding down rapidly. But that is another story! Right then the company was almost arrogant and was trying to dictate certain terms to its bankers! It had conveniently forgotten that the bank had been a partner in its success and had stood by it in its days of struggle!
The company had appointed Mr. Amitab Bachhan (Big B) as its brand ambassador. Big B was at the peak of his career at that time. Ironically Big B also later entered business with his venture Amitab Bachhan Corporation Ltd (ABCL). Unfortunately it ended in a disaster in tune with his film career. In fact it was our bank, which financed his business venture and burnt its fingers. The bank brought an attachment against his house property. But BIG B rose like a phoenix with the launch of KBC by Star TV and has never looked back since then. He paid back our bank dues in full much to the relief of his fans.
But quite unfortunately BPL has not been able to get back to its days of glory. So much for the uncertainty of the business ventures! In fact the story of BPL could be an ideal case-study for the business school students. It is a mystery how the company lost its moorings when the boom in the electronic industry was at its peak. We have heard of many companies missing the bus (opportunity). But here was a leader who jumped out of the bus from the front-seat when the journey was in progress!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

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