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June 21, 2014

Power Banker: Arundhati Bhattacharya

Text by Nasrin Modak. Image: Getty Images

The first woman to chair SBI, cracked what has been a male bastion for more than two centuries. Arundhati Bhattacharya likes to recite stanzas from Tennyson and Keats and believes in a collaborative leadership style….

Last year, Arundhati Bhattacharya created history by cracking what has been a male bastion for more than two centuries. The first woman to chair the behemoth nationalised bank, State Bank of India (SBI), is not only the latest entrant to the elite list of women leading financial institutions, but she also supersedes them by being the first Indian woman to chair a Fortune 500 company.

Starting out: ‘I took a bank probationary officer’s exam just for a lark, goaded by friends from the university who were preparing for the test.’

First day at work: Writing cheques and entering details of it while being surrounded by hoards of people who wanted to withdraw cash before the bank shut for Pujo. “It was a day of baptism by fire.”

Leadership style: Collaborative. Knowing that most of SBI’s 224,000 employees are union members, she has already met their officials thrice in five months.

Loves to: Recite stanzas from Tennyson and Keats as she looks out to the Arabian Sea from her 18th floor office in Mumbai.

Known for: Being hands-on. At the Nimpura branch in East India, she often sat with her colleagues to help them count cash and even picked up the screwdriver to try and fix power outages by tinkering with the meter box.

Gets nostalgic about: ‘The Durga Pujas of my childhood in Bokaro and Bhilai and the carefree college days of studying literature at Jadhavpur University. I will return to Kolkata once I retire.’

Owes her success to: ‘The support of my ex-IIT professor and friends and colleagues who were there for my daughter when I couldn’t be around.’

Believes in: Facing challenges with courage.

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