By Prarthana Mitra
After months of battling allegations of impropriety, ICICI CEO and one of India’s premier female bankers Chanda Kochhar resigned from her post on Thursday. Kochhar, 56 was first accused in March, of conflicts of interest, lack of disclosures and quid-pro-quo while extending loans to Videocon Industries (now bankrupt).
This tumultuous period for India’s largest private sector lender was followed by a rigorous multi-agency investigation into the charges, that later enforced an indefinite leave-of-absence on Kochhar.
Her career at ICICI
Her association with ICICI begins in 1984, when she joined as a management trainee and soon rose up the ladder, playing an important part in its transformation from a solely infrastructure lender to a more retail-focused lender. After her mentor and then chairman KV Ramnath retired in 2009, Kochhar who was then CFO was elected despite considerable objections from senior members of the board, as the managing director and chief executive.
Her control over any negative press was unparalleled, and her public appearances admirable. She was a vocal critic of the paucity of women in Indian business schools, or was even handpicked by a lobby to moderate a conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, just a month before her undoing.
The beginning of the end
Tipped off by a whistleblower, whose identity is yet to be known, the initial trigger behind the ouster was her undisclosed business dalliance with Videocon promoter Venugopal Dhoot who had connections with her husband Deepak Kochhar.
Even when she was accused of granting a Rs 3,250 crore loan to Videocon which later defaulted, most of the board members still rallied behind her in support. In fact, ICICI had initially exonerated her of all charges, before pressure from legal corners mounted on them. Later they recused themselves from the case as the slew of allegations against Kochhar and the list of consortial relations kept growing, including an Essar group shell company of the Ruias.
High profile exit
The bank was forced to sanction an independent probe into the allegations. The CBI, ED and SFIO questioned Kochhar’s employees and family members, following which she was placed on leave and Sandeep Bakshi was appointed to serves an interim CEO. On Thursday, her offer to resign was accepted and implemented with immediate effect, possibly stemming from pressure from shareholders demanding clarity on the situation.
Away from the public eye since May, her fall from above the glass ceiling that she herself helped break, makes for a historic case study. ICICI has, over the last few years, slipped below HDFC in the private lending sector rankings. While the probe against Kochhar continues, the bank is certain to try and recover from the year-round public relations and performative disaster.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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