Being big is not always such a good thing. For starters, you become an easy target for peashooters who give expression to their envy through feeble pot-shots. But, there’s another danger: size also invests people and organisations with gratuitous arrogance which manipulates them to view all criticism through a prism layered with suspicion and contempt. ICICI Bank has been at the receiving end of two comments made by its rivals. Here they are:
• State Bank of India chairman O P Bhatt is a man not normally given to controversial public statements, unlike some of his other worthy predecessors. Yet, about three weeks ago, during the bank’s annual general meeting, he allowed himself one uncharacteristic wisecrack – call it a sarcastic side-swipe – that got picked up a grateful media and was reported with great relish. Mr Bhatt is reported to have said that ICICI Bank was an “unfit” candidate for acquisition and State Bank had no plans to acquire it. According to Chinese Whispers column (dated June 23, 2009) in Business Standard newspaper: “He said, tongue firmly in cheek, that his bank had no plans to acquire ICICI Bank as it was not advisable to take over the country’s largest private sector bank in its present state.” What does “present state” really mean, pray?
• The second instance is a comment allegedly made by Mandeep Maitra, head of human resources at HDFC Bank. In a story on HDFC Bank, Business World magazine wrote this: It (HDFC Bank) also has the people, managing to get nearly 900 ICICI Bank staffers every year over the past three years. In some places, almost the entire top brass of an ICICI Bank branch would walk in for interviews. “Of course, the first thing I ask is ‘how many of you are from ICICI Bank?’ I do not want that culture out here,” quips Maitra. Of the people hired in the past three years, about 40 per cent came from other banks.
ICICI Bank has responded by sending a legal notice to Maitra, seeking an apology for the statement.
What do these two stray, and definitely unrelated, incidents indicate? One, has ICICI’s phenomenal growth, or pace of expansion, left the banking and financial services industry with many green faces and are they venting their spleen at the first inopportune moment? Or, has ICICI’s supercilious behaviour really got everybody’s goat and a general industry-wide repugnance is now finding expression through every available public forum? You decide.