A Padma Bhushan awardee, pioneer of the retail banking revolution in the country, celebrity CEO and an icon for women, Chanda Kochhar has been a regular on the covers of Forbes and Fortune. She was instrumental in making ICICI Bank the country’s biggest private sector lender.
Chanda Kochhar was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) along with her husband Deepak in connection with the alleged cheating and irregularities in loans sanctioned by ICICI Bank to firms of the Videocon Group.
Her stint at ICICI Bank ended abruptly in 2018 when she sought early retirement following allegations of corruption and quid pro-quo while granting loans to the now bankrupt Videocon Industries.
She was mired in allegations of conflicts of interest, lack of disclosures and quid pro-quo while extending loans to Videocon. She, in fact, was the first woman to head a large lender in the country.
A favourite of the then group chairman KV Kamath, Kochhar joined ICICI Bank as a management trainee in 1984. She rose through the ranks to play an important part in its transformation into a retail-focused lender when it turned into a commercial bank in the early 1990s.
In 2009, she was chosen to succeed Kamath as the managing director and chief executive despite a strong leadership bench. Her elevation also led to the exit of Shikha Sharma – the former Axis Bank chief, who was senior to her in the group.
Before her elevation to the corner office, she was a key member of the bank’s management and was also the chief financial officer.
Her firm control of the institution led to a complete stoppage of negative press – there was just one bank run incident during her tenure.
When an RBI review in 2015 found a large amount of under-reported dud assets with the bank, she announced a new strategy of concentrating only on well-rated borrowers.
She has led many social causes, but her inspiring rise to the top was most admired.
Over the years, she came to define ICICI Bank until the announcement of her formal exit six months after allegations of impropriety first cropped up. She went on indefinite leave after the board was forced to launch an external probe into the issue.
A loan to Videocon and the business dalliances between its promoter Venugopal Dhoot and her husband Deepak Kochhar led to her ouster from the bank. Dhoot had invested in and subsequently exited a power company promoted by the power couple and did not disclose this when ICICI Bank gave a loan to Videocon as part of a consortium.
Initially, she enjoyed the board’s full backing, but as the list of allegations kept growing, she found herself alone. Finally, a complaint by a whistleblower proved to be her undoing.
The bank initially exonerated her but later launched an independent probe by a retired judge and Kochhar went on indefinite leave. Sandeep Bakhshi was made the chief operating officer to oversee the day-to-day operations.
Kochhar had six months to go before her term expired in March 2019. Regulations allow private sector bank chiefs to continue till 70. Her offer to resign was accepted with immediate effect.
She took over ICICI Bank when it was the second largest in the system and the largest among its private sector peers. By the time she stepped down, it had slipped to a distant third spot in the sector and the second largest private sector lender after HDFC Bank.