I have been a recipient of Sri Vaghul’s generosity and also been a direct witness to his approach towards life in general, and officialdom in particular. I would like to mention a few instances:

 Sri Vaghul entered Bank of India as CMD in early 1980 at an unbelievably young age of 44 !His coming heralded a breath of fresh air . He firmly believed that the wisdom in the bank was spread across the bank and not merely confined to Head Office . He started a practice of identifying problems being faced by tge bank , inviting officers dealing with the concerned issues for a conference at HO , deliberate and decide the possible solutions for each of such problems .

I was a JM Scale I Officer in Bank of India, RO Hyderabad, when I was asked to attend a conference of O&M officers at HO sometime in 1981. It was a conference of 3 days duration, with the CMD an active participant, besides also being the moving spirit. 

I happened to be one of the most enthusiastic participants, but with many points of difference with the CMD in terms of the mechanics of implementation. A good way to describe was that we agreed on the diagnosis but differed on the administration of the remedy . 

The CMD, in his immense generosity , never once interrupted me as I was making my points , and, instead, was making notes. Even an oblique comment from him would have been sufficient to discourage me from expressing my opinion any further.

On the third and final day, what Sri Vaghul did was simply astounding! He gave me a draft summary of what was decided at the conference. He said to me, “Raman, I hope this meets your assent “! I was so humbled by this great man who was so kind and generous to say something like that to a person at such a junior level. I can never forget that event, ever!

 Academic qualifications wise, Sri Vaghul was a B. Com. But his knowledge, curiosity, and keenness to apply technology in the bank’s business and processes was so much ahead of his times! Our satellite INSAT 1B was about to be launched sometime then and Sri Vaghul was thinking of how Bank of India and the banking system could benefit out of it! We all now know that some large international banks have their own satellites for purpose of fast and secure communication! But Sri Vaghul had thought of this a few decades earlier! 

 Sri Vaghul was simplicity personified. He once came to visit the ECIL at Hyderabad to discuss some matters with the ECIL Chairman. When he arrived at Hyderabad ZO, I was asked by my ZM to accompany the CMD. But Sri Vaghul said he only needed a car and a driver who could take him to ECIL. And, after discussions, he left straight for the Airport. No airs about him at all! He considered himself and behaved as just another official of the bank, but with his own higher designated role .... this humble approach showed in his dealings and conversations with anyone and everyone, all the time.

 Sri Vaghul was very good at public speaking. I heard him once at Hyderabad when he addressed a large gathering on the importance of Management Information Systems. He gave a marvellous speech in a most effective and telling manner, which I remember to this day! He started off by saying something on these lines.” Dinosaurs were the biggest ever animals which inhabited the earth. They were easily the most fearsome and also the strongest. Yet, they became extinct! Why? One theory is that the dinosaurs were continuously becoming bigger and bigger in size over several centuries. But there was a catch! While their bodies were growing bigger and bigger in size, the capacity of their brains remained the same, so much so that the animal was not knowing real time what was happening to its own body! Nature had no use for such an animal which was not knowing what was happening to itself! And it soon became extinct!” 

Sri Vaghul compared the situation of the dinosaurs to large institutions like banks, leaving a telling analogy. In fact, it was in this context that Sri Vaghul tried very hard to improve and simplify MIS in banks. The Health Code system was his first major effort in this direction, which was initially tried out in Bank of India. Subsequently, the RBI made it an across- the-industry requirement. This subsequently led to the Narasimham Committee recommendations in respect of Asset Classification, Recognition of Income & Provisioning Requirements. Sri Vaghul was a member of the first Narasimham Committee , besides innumerable other important committees, some of which he headed.

 I continued to be in sporadic touch with Sri Vaghul as he had become my idol. Whenever I requested him for time to meet him ( which was once in a few years ) , he invariably said yes. In one of my visits to ICICI, I actually saw him in his room without a table, about which a few business magazines had written about. It was so different from anything I had ever seen! And, it required enormous guts to do what he did! 

 Sri Vaghul was a great institution builder. As CMD of ICICI, several new subsidiaries were established ... some prominent examples are ICICI Bank, CRISIL, OTCEI, NCDEX, SCICI. ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company, ICICI Mutual Fund, ARCIL etc., all of which significantly added to the value of the ICICI brand, besides hugely adding to the market capitalization of ICICI Bank. He also plotted and executed the reverse merger of ICICI with ICICI Bank.

 When Sri Vaghul became the non-executive Chairman of ICICI Bank on Sri K.V. Kamath becoming the MD & CEO , one of the first things which Sri Vaghul did was to shift out of Mumbai (to Chennai). His reasoning was that the new MD should have total freedom , and, if the previous MD also functions from the same place, people will continue to look to the outgoing MD, which would not be a very healthy situation.

 On becoming CMD of Canara Bank, in September 2012, I requested for a meeting with the great man during one of my first visits to Chennai. He received me with the same affection and love. He had a by-pass surgery just a few weeks earlier, but had just returned after a round of golf! This speaks volumes about the man and his approach to life! 

Sri Vaghul is the first truly great person I came across in my life. He remains till today my idol, with all his simplicity, humility and unparalleled generosity, coupled with his capacities and farsightedness. Above all, Sri Vaghul is living proof that it is possible for a decent person to reach and succeed at the highest levels, on his own terms!

Generosity of thought and deed was the USP of Sri Vaghul. When I was writing my autobiography, I was sharing with him each chapter of the book as it was getting made. He provided constant encouragement and an occasional comment. When I requested him to write a few words about the book, he was as usual at his generous best. And, when I asked him if he could send a photograph of him holding the book, he sent one, despite not feeling very well.

Thanks to my own progress in my career, first becoming CMD in Canara Bank, and subsequently a Whole Time Member of SEBI for a five-year term, I was blessed with the opportunities of meeting, interacting, and getting personally known to the topmost personalities in the Indian Corporate sector, besides RBI Governors, Finance Ministers, top bureaucrats, and a host of other dignitaries. I would place Sri Vaghul right at the top of the pantheon, given his extraordinary capabilities and qualities of humility, simplicity, and generosity! 

The man who comes most to my mind as a parallel is our former President, Sri APJ Abdul Kalam ....

N. Vaghul, may his tribe increase!

S. Raman

FORMER CMD, CANARA BANK & WTM, SEBI

AUTHOR of “From a Car Shed to the Corner Room and Beyond”

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