Uday Kotak: A journey to meteoric heights cut short by regulator

10:44 AM Sep 03, 2023 | PTI |

Growing up in the Mumbai of 1970s, Uday Kotak aspired to be a cricketer and trained under legendary coach Ramakant Aachrekar. However, it was an on-field injury which resulted in a shift to finance.


He started off with bill discounting, turned to lending and successfully applied to starting a universal bank in the first decade of the millennium, as India was warming up to private play in banking.

In a four-decade journey in the financial services space, Uday Kotak can boast of many firsts and some deft business moves, which illustrate the convictions with which he operated.

Kotak, the 64-year-old founder-promoter of Kotak Mahindra Bank, is the richest banker in the country by virtue of owning 26 per cent of the bank which was valued at over Rs 3.5 lakh crore as of Friday’s close.

The private sector lender he founded is the only one sporting the family name, and till Friday, had a family member at the helm as the managing director and chief executive officer in an industry where professional managers have the strongest currency.


When he stunned all with the decision to acquire ING Vysya Bank in an all-share deal, the transaction was the biggest in the private sector banking space as of then. The merger did not face any regulatory roadblocks and the integration was smooth.

However, the issue of promoter stake was Kotak’s biggest worry all through the journey as a universal bank and the RBI didn’t budge on the insistence to bring it down to 15 per cent for the longest time.

Investors loved the bank’s consistent earnings growth and relatively cleaner books, and Kotak struggled to get his stake down to what the RBI was comfortable with.

He also attempted to do so with a complex instrument, which did not meet the regulatory muster, and finally, in an unprecedented move, the bank dragged RBI to the Bombay High Court over the issue.

Kotak won the first round with the RBI under newly appointed Governor Shaktikanta Das agreeing to allow promoters of KMB to hold a 26 per cent stake, which led to the withdrawal of the case.

However, the RBI’s norms on leadership appointments at private sector banks — reviewed after the Yes Bank debacle where Co-founder Rana Kapoor’s workings led to catastrophic consequences — led to Kotak’s exit from the bank in an executive role.

The RBI capped the maximum tenure of a managing director and chief executive officer at 15 years, due to which Kotak was set to retire at the end of his term in December 2023, which has now been cut short.

Kotak announced that he will be a non-executive director on the bank’s board, but also went public against the bureaucratic approach in financial sector regulations. The remarks in his last message to shareholders as the CEO is reported to have disappointed the RBI brass.

All through his career, outspoken Kotak went with his convictions and was arguably the rare voice in the banking space who went public with his concerns on demonetisation. Recently, he also spoke disparagingly against the US Dollar, which was withdrawn later.

Probably, what made such assertions possible was Kotak’s heft as a banker, with KMB’s financials speaking the loudest, forcing all to take note of what he has to say on a topic.

He also helped out regulators and policy makers leading efforts to draft corporate governance guidelines, and efforts to resolve the IL&FS mess.

A part of Kotak’s legacy stays on in the bank he founded, with his son Jay rising to be a vice president and Co-head of the ‘811’ initiative.

In his resignation letter, Kotak said the bank has taken necessary steps on succession, and now awaits the RBI’s decision.


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