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How Vishwavir Ahuja turned around a little-known bank and became a multimillionaire

25 August, 2016

Shortly after Vishwavir Ahuja joined the board of a small regional bank in 2010, as a precursor to taking over as its CEO, he said he didn’t want to do anything in a hurry. His transformation of the 73-year-old RBL Bank Ltd, however, indicates that he is a man in a great hurry.

Consider this: Since 2009-10–the last financial year before he took over the reins of the lender then known as Ratnakar Bank–deposits have soared 15 times from Rs 1,585 crore to Rs 24,350 crore in 2015-16. Net profit has surged at the same pace, from Rs 19 crore to Rs 297 crore. 

The private-sector bank based in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, also has spread outside the state; its number of branches has more than doubled to 201 across 16 states and union territories. The bank, which until six years ago mainly catered to local traders, now lends to everyone from the poorest farmers in the hinterland to the biggest companies in Mumbai.

Along the way, Ahuja and the team he brought in overhauled operations, brand image, technology infrastructure and even the work culture at the bank where lack of technology and a unionized staff had hampered growth in the face of stiff competition from rapidly growing private-sector rivals. He also introduced risk management and corporate governance practices at the bank and gave stock options to staff to keep them motivated. 

The transformation helped the bank attract marquee investors, who have put in almost Rs 1,500 crore in four rounds since 2010. Its investors include CDC Group, International Finance Corporation, Norwest Venture Partners, Samara Capital, HDFC Bank, Faering Capital, Beacon India Private Equity Fund, Gaja Capital, Aditya Birla PE and IDFC Alternatives, among others.

The icing on the cake came this week when the bank’s initial public offering attracted bids for nearly 70 times the shares on offer.

The IPO also catapulted 56-year-old Ahuja, who was the India chief of Bank of America for eight years before joining RBL, into the list of one of the richest bankers in India.

Ahuja, whose current tenure as the CEO will last till June 2018, declined to comment for this article. 

RBL Bank will raise around Rs 1,213 crore at the upper end of its price band of Rs 224-225 per share for the IPO. At Rs 225 apiece, the bank would be valued around $1.25 billion.

Ahuja owned about 9 million shares, or a 2.7% stake in the bank, before the IPO, according to the lender’s red herring prospectus. This would be worth a little over Rs 200 crore ($30 million) at the upper end of the price band. He also has about 2.33 million outstanding employee stock options, which would be worth around Rs 52 crore at Rs 225 apiece. 

In comparison, HDFC Bank’s Aditya Puri owned a 0.12% stake in the private-sector lender as of March 2016, valuing his stake close to Rs 386 crore based on the trading price on Thursday.

Ahuja, however, lags behind peers in terms of total salary and compensation. The IIM-Ahmedabad graduate with three decades of banking experience got total remuneration of Rs 1.66 crore, which includes salary and taxable allowances, in 2015-16. This does not include the stock options he may have exercised during the year.  

The 20% hike in salary he got wasn’t enough to propel him into the list of India’s highest-paid bankers where Puri takes the top slot with a pay packet of Rs 9.73 crore. The CEOs or managing directors bigger private-sector rivals such as ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, YES Bank and IndusInd Bank are among the other highest-paid bankers in India. But there is still plenty of time for Ahuja to play catch-up.

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How Vishwavir Ahuja turned around a little-known bank and became a multimillionaire

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