Arundhati Bhattacharya: The Making of SBI’s First Woman Chairperson
Why Did Arundhati Bhattacharya Stay In The Same Job For 40 Years?
Arundhati Bhattacharya is an Indian banker and is currently the Chairperson of the State Bank of India, having been with the company since 1977. She is the first woman to be the “Chairman” of State Bank of India.
She is also the first woman to lead an India-based Fortune India 500 company. In this recent interview with HBR Ascend, she spoke about what made her stay in her job for the last 40 years and how the job kept her interested for so long. She also gave some great advice for young women looking to join the banking industry.
HBR Ascend: You didn’t plan on a career in banking, originally. What did you discover about the profession that made you want to stay in it for your entire career?
AB: When we were young, about to start off on a career, there were very few opportunities. This was one opportunity that was open to everybody and you didn’t need to request anybody for a favour; that was one very major enabler. Once I got the job, what made me stay on was the fact that it kept me interested.
Even though I have served this bank now for almost 40 years, I have had 15 or 16 types of jobs, in various disciplines and places. I have always had to learn. I moved from corporate banking into treasury, then into retail, from that I moved into opening new businesses, then to HR, and then into investment banking.
These are all leaps. It’s like several new jobs in your career with changes every three years. The learning on the job was so huge that it kept me so interested. And I always liked to learn new things, see new places, understand new cultures and concepts and to that extent I found it very interesting.
Is there an upside or downside to staying in one job for a long time?
When I changed jobs, I changed not outside the organization but within the organization. And I did very many different things.
The only drawback about changing organizations is if you are changing too frequently then I, as a recruiter, would have a doubt about why are you changing so frequently? For anybody to start delivering in an organization, it takes two years. If you are changing at the cusp of two years, that means you’re really not delivering anywhere. I would be highly suspicious of such people.
It also takes time to create a reputation for yourself in an organization. If you’re going to jump from organization to organization, you’ll have to work repeatedly to create that reputation. So it means more hard work. If you’re willing to do that, fine. If not, it helps if you remain in the same organization and continue there as long as you’re satisfied with the work.
What is it that helped you get to where you are? Was it something you did right or the way you lead?
It’s difficult to say what I did right, but you know to some extent if you’re a hard worker, if you’ve created a reputation for yourself, if you’re good with team work, with your colleagues, if you try and be more helpful, expand your sphere beyond what you are strictly told to do, it helps in getting ahead.
What challenges did you face as you rose in a male-dominated profession? What do you think helped you get here?
I had mentors, both men and women. I also had a lot of help from family, in the sense that they have given me the space to do what I needed to do. My husband left his IIT Kharagpur job! So if they are not willing to move, and to sort of remain in step with you, then it becomes a problem.
I have had a lot of help from a lot of people. As I said in respect of my mentors, one of them has prevented me from leaving at one point of time, and another has given me right counsel as to the kind of postings I should seek. So, there are lots of people who will help along the way, but you also have to make it possible for them to help you.
How do you seek a mentor? How would you figure out that this is a person who can help me?
A mentor is a person who is trying to help you and is genuinely interested in your well-being. You should find people who are genuinely interested. Your well-wishers can become your mentors.
If I ask you to state one thing that you would’ve done differently, what would it be and why?
The only thing I think I should’ve done differently is I should’ve got a few more educational qualifications. I wanted very early in life to get a PhD, but I never could manage it because those days it was very restrictive – they wanted me to be on campus, which was not possible.
I think if I had a few more professional qualifications—given that I came into a profession for which my academics was not the right kind—it would have helped me more. That is something that I regret. Maybe I could’ve made time. You can always make time if you’re keen.
When you look back on the best relationships in your career, what did they have in common?
Relationships are very important, and they must be on an equal footing where you’re both giving and taking. It cannot be one way. Whether it be colleagues, friends, or family, it’s always a two-way street. The other thing is that you have to be genuine. I’m very bad at remembering birthdays.
Sometimes I forget my own, so I’ve told everyone that if I don’t wish (them) a happy birthday, don’t take it badly. Just know that should you need me for anything, I’m there. If you’re genuinely interested in a person and their well-being, that helps you nurture relationships.
What’s your favorite question to ask when you’re interviewing someone for a job?
Well, I haven’t really thought of that one! But, I would like to know what they believe is their goal in life: what is it they would like to achieve. Why do they want to be in the service industry, because the mindset in the service industry has to be very different from that in, say, manufacturing or research. Determining whether they’re suitable for the service industry is very important.
If it is someone at a senior level, I would try to find out what or where they want to be in life, where they believe they are, how far towards their goal have they gone, and what they are willing to do in order to get there.
What’s been the biggest change in the banking profession since you entered? What worries you most about the future of the finance industry?
One thing that does worry me is cyber threats. That’s a major thing because today almost everything is backed by IT. This is something that is evolving. You do not know the framework of what can be done, when it can happen, or the extent of it. You are always trying to keep a little ahead of the threats. That is really worrying because at the end of the day, there is no way out other than the use of extensive technology.
In our industry, if you make barriers too tough, it impedes customer satisfaction. So I have to draw a fine line between how much security I want and the kind of customer experience I want. Many a times you have to take very, very tough calls.
Any advice to young ambitious women who want to join this sector?
My only advice is don’t give up. Giving up is very easy. It’s a matter of seconds. Always try; if you try, paths will open. Who intervenes, I don’t know. I’d say its divine intervention, but things will work out.
There will be ups and downs. You will not be successful in everything you do. But, at the end of the day, you will find that you have done the right things, you’ve taken the right calls, and if there have been any hiccups midway, then so be it. Those are learning opportunities. Learn from them. Learning is the main thing – it should be a mantra. You should learn and just be there, hang in there.
Things will work out. Don’t give up.
Source :- HBRascends