Puri, who ended a career graph resembling Nike’s swoosh logo at Citibank to head a start-up long before it became a fad, has built a Rs 6.7 lakh crore empire and has left a footprint that would become an aspiration for many.
While management courses and books provide innumerable strategies, what would be of interest for the future generation is his execution finesse – one that has its share of admiration and heartburn in equal measure.
Managing thousands of staff isn’t easy. As he set the rules of the game, many who went by it survived to reach greater heights. But those who violated and did not meet his requirements fell by the wayside. At one level, it was a military regime in finance.
“There has been blood on the floor,” Puri said in a 2015 interview after he fired some for being slow to adopting technology.
Attitudes have to change as well as the process.”
Why is he ruthless?
“I don’t think ruthlessness is the correct word, I would say professionalism is the correct word,” says Puri. “There are no friends in banking. If you have a good proposal I would lend to you. That is not ruthless. You have to walk the talk, We are a very professional organisation. The rules and regulations comes first, and the culture reflects it.”
A man who has driven colleagues up the wall and been a Shylock with borrowers to get the depositors’ money back, has another side too – a pious, philosophical and family man.
Here’s a thought for those who start ventures with valuation in sight. “Money was a byproduct,” he says, “but by the grace of God it has been a big big byproduct! “Money will come but it will come as a consequence of your purpose.”
Puri read more books, observed people and thought on what they needed instead of sitting through power point presentations. All that he did in his not so spacious (relatively) office was stare at a bronze idol of Ganpati and the two trays – `in’ and `out.’
In these days of numerous stories where CEOs in start-ups work for 18 hours a day, Puri was home most of the days before sunset. There’s a belief that to build a multi-billion empire one needs undisturbed time away from the family.
For Puri, it was not. Even if the board meeting is on, if the daughter or wife wants to speak, he’s always there walking out to have a chat with them. Family was ahead of the bank matters.
While Puri would become a legend in Indian banking and future generations of bankers would read up to emulate, his success had its roots in the values he imbibed from his family.
Why did he kick the Citi job when he was sure that the next stop was New York? Why did he choose an underdeveloped India over the flourishing US?
“The true thing is I almost did not come back,” Puri said in one of the many interviews over the years. “I came back because of my father (Wing Commander Tapishwar Puri). I was still thinking… because I was sitting so pretty. I said papa why don’t you move to KL. There is enough help and we will look after you. He said no I don’t want to leave India. And I want to spend my last years with you. I want to die in your house.”
Was that the trigger to take up the HDFC Bank offer?
“When I asked my wife she said can you live with it if something happens to him? I said no. Decision over. So you have to have values. It all comes together. The money and glory came later…but did I ever expect this? The answer is no…”
Puri never stops crediting his wife for his success.
“She has probably not got as much credit…she was a pillar of strength,” he says.