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December 23, 2013

The Man Behind Indian Private Equity's Favourite Bank

In Indian Private Equity circles, one often tends to hear of Rantakar Bank spoken of in almost fawning terms. Not surprising since, as the Venture Intelligence PE Deal database indicates, over a dozen Indian PE firms - from Aditya Birla Private Equity to TVS Capital - have invested $220 million into the Kolhapur, Maharashtra-based private sector bank. (With such a long list, the bank's PE register even includes two different funds sporting a Sanskrit and English variation of the same name: Elephant Capital and Gaja Capital!).
 
Economic Times has a profile of the man these investors are all betting on - Vishwavir Ahuja, Ratnakar's MD & CEO Ratnakar Bank who was formerly the India country head of Bank of America. Extracts:

For the first six months, Ahuja, 53, camped out in Kolhapur, travelling from Mumbai by train and road to get there. He also faced resistance from staff who viewed him as an outsider and feared job losses. Ahuja had a plan to gain their trust. First, he guaranteed that no one would lose their jobs and reversed the transfers of a few employees, bringing them closer home. Others were appointed to oversee the corporate governance structure. Applying the personal touch was important. "For six months I stayed at Kolhapur. Every communication was personally communicated by me to employees in a town hall. I refrained from just sending a mail," said Ahuja.

He spruced up the head office building and set up a regional processing centre in Kolhapur. He also made it a point to expand the branch network in Kolhapur before entering new geographies. All this earned him staff goodwill. "The idea was to start from where you are strong. Our market share in our home market Kolhapur was only 4%. In the first few months we increased that to 10%. We did promotional activities only in Kolhapur and tapped the business community and temple business in the local market,'' he said.
...He's not without his critics, who say he's merely touching up the surface to make the bank look good for a potential investor. Ahuja flares up at such a suggestion. "We have not dressed up the bank to go anywhere," he said. "We have done everything the hard way. We have not come in to make money by selling. I have made a long-term institution."
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