Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Rana Kapoor: Saying Yes to Yourself

The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs? In the beginning they need to fend for themselves and overcome scepticism, says Yes Bank’s Rana Kapoor

Published: Dec 4, 2010 06:59:46 AM IST
Updated: Oct 3, 2011 04:50:04 PM IST
Rana Kapoor: Saying Yes to Yourself
Image: Dinesh Krishnan
Rana Kapoor, Founder, Managing director, and CEO of Yes Bank

Name: Rana Kapoor
Profile: Founder, managing director and CEO of Yes Bank
He Says: The journey of a professional entrepreneur is rigorous. It requires extraordinary grit, energy and self-drive. We must concurrently sponsor, mentor hundreds of believers within our organisation who have bet on us and you simply have to deliver for everyone’s sake

There is palpable expectation in the air at Yes Bank. I am here to meet founder, managing director and chief executive officer Rana Kapoor and everyone on the floor seems to know about the meeting. The place looks prepared for me. Three aides from Kapoor’s team are conducting me. Everyone is on a drill: The polite conversation, the questions, the handing over of the company’s public relations material. Everything is just the way it must be. I do not like it. I am not a journalist and I do not want to be handled as one. Then comes in the man and everything quickly falls into place. The conversation is about his beginnings, and it immediately tells me why this place is the way it is: More prepared than spontaneous, more ready than expecting, more manicured where a little wild growth could make the garden more beautiful. Rana Kapoor’s father was a pilot for Indian Airlines for 37 years!

When you fly people, you do not take chances. You do it precisely and you do it every time. If you are not a perfectionist, you do not become a commercial airline pilot. According to Kapoor, you don’t become a banker either. Kapoor says, “In business, the highest risk you have [to take] is [to stake] your reputation.” I look at his log book; from starting life as an IT intern at Citibank, to Rabo India Finance where he masterminded the transaction involving Tetley’s acquisition by the Tatas.

“I am a professional entrepreneur trying to build a high-quality organisation. I believe that relentless execution is the key. As India becomes centre-stage to the global knowledge economy, the bank must create knowledge platforms for ‘segments of the future’ and within the bank, knowledge must be contagious.”

I straighten myself up. This man is not talking like a banker, he is talking like a combination of Peter Drucker and Ikujiro Nonaka who told all of us — bankers included — that the job of an enterprise is the creation of knowledge, converting it to innovation and through it, building competitive advantage by engineering lasting customer value. For the next hour, he talks to me about how he sees the knowledge construct at Yes Bank.

“At Yes Bank, we are building a knowledge-driven culture. We have a differentiated strategy born out of vision, and knowledge is at its core. For example, we are hiring the best people from agricultural universities for the agriculture sector and making them learn the language of the bank. One of our clients had a farm for a long time. The sector expert-turned-banker from Yes Bank advised the client to convert a part of the farm into a ‘modern terminal market’. We are investing in technology solutions that spread knowledge through the bank and externalise that knowledge.” Rana Kapoor’s bank is using knowledge to decode the future.

We are halfway through our involved conversation. The commercial pilot’s ultra-cautious genes are receding; the man is beginning to talk like a galactic traveller. I want to see what he is seeing. So I ask him to tell me where is the next big thing. “The infrastructure opportunity is huge; [also the] energy and the power sector. Life sciences and health care will burgeon. Within these, anything that can alter cost structures will have an interesting play.”

We shift the conversation to something different: The world of professional entrepreneurs. I want Kapoor to tell me something for the many Rana Kapoors who are waiting in the wings. “Professional entrepreneurs like you and me have been a rare breed in the past; although there are exemplary heroes like those who built Infosys or Make My Trip,” says Kapoor. “The main challenges are that we start as underdogs without institutional support and pre-established systems. In the beginning, we all lack the brand and have to really fend for ourselves. We need to make ‘Hanumanian efforts’ to succeed with limited help from external stakeholders. We need to overcome scepticism, fairly often even from friends.

“The journey of a professional entrepreneur is far more rigorous. You have to take a high road, it requires extraordinary grit, determination and energy. Self-drive is mission critical. We must concurrently sponsor, mentor hundreds of believers within our organisation who have bet on us and you simply have to deliver for everyone’s sake. It is highly motivating, captivating, despite the assiduous efforts necessary in this highly satisfying journey.”

Before I wind up, I have one last question. This one is about what he considers the most critical aspect of building a scalable organisational architecture: About the essence of a leader at the helms.

Rana Kapoor is in wheels down mode, ready to make a three-point landing on the runway of our conversation. He says, “You must be a great believer in grasping, in being a compulsive decision maker and enjoy problem solving. When you get it wrong, you correct the decisions you make by going back to point one.”

The man founded his bank just seven years ago. His vision is to build the best quality bank of the world in India by 2015. The Yes in the bank reflects what he calls the true spirit of being service oriented in order to create a ‘truly superior’ banking experience. His assets stood at a staggering Rs. 24,000 crore by 2009 with a net profit of Rs. 304 crore and dud-assets of just 0.33 percent. The bank has 250 branches and employs 3,300 people. Captain Rana Kapoor is in command. We have touched down. I am ready to disembark and I think I hear him say, “All doors to manual. Report and cross check.”

Subroto Bagchi is co-founder & gardener, MindTree and a best-selling author. His brief:  Every fortnight, exchange tales of the road with successful entrepreneurs

(This story appears in the 17 December, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)