“The boss-subordinate relationship is obsolete”

Updated: Jan 21 2002, 05:30am hrs
Ever since my school days I wanted to be in the business of finance, even before I knew what finance was all about,” says Shanti Ekambaram, the chirpy 39-year old Chief executive officer (CEO) and executive director of Kotak Mahindra Capital Company (KMCC).

Shanti Ekambaram
From an analyst with Kotak Mahindra in 1991, to becoming the CEO of Kotak Mahindra Capital Company, the Kotak group’s investment banking joint venture with Goldman Sachs, KMCC, in September 1998, it has practically been a steady rise for her. More importantly, she has had a chance to actively involve herself with various aspects of the business—be it treasury, trade or bill discounting, within the Kotak group.

After graduating from Sydenham College, Mumbai, in 1982, Ms Ekambaram completed her Chartered Accountancy in 1987. Her first job at the Bank of Nova Scotia happened, in her own words, “by default”. Her friend, who got an interview call from the bank, had asked her to go in his place, since he had already taken up a job elsewhere. The interview board was far too impressed to deny her an entry on grounds that the interview call was not for her. Ms Ekambaram joined in 1987 and continued there till 1991.

“My career moves have all been accidental and I could never go ahead in a planned manner,” she says. It was over a lunch meeting with Mr Uday Kotak, chairman of the Kotak Group, who was then a client of the bank, that she expressed her restlessness and desire to do something different. Mr Kotak, asked her to join his group and see if she found it interesting. Ms Ekambaram has never had to look back.

What has perhaps helped her to sustain her passion for her work is that in the nineties, the Kotak group gradually made its mark in the Indian financial business from scratch and she as a professional grew in parlance with the company’s growth. In 1992 when the Indian companies were given access to the ADR market, the financial services sector also opened up to a larger degree. Ms Ekambaram quickly moved to handle the foreign institutional investors (FII) desk and dealt with the international markets for clients. In 1995, she moved back to focussing on the domestic capital markets which has been a significant contributor to KMCC’s growth in the past few years.

“We were relatively new and had no baggage of the past. We were able to adapt very quickly to new ideas and moved aggressively and innovatively,” says Ms Ekambaram. She feels, KMCC’s strength lies in it’s ability to be ahead of markets and always managing to get the right people. “ My career with Kotak has been all about a great level of teamwork and a hell of a fascinating journey,” says Ms Ekambaram.

Is it possible for her to single out a deal that has been the most challenging “As a top notch investment banker, KMCC has struck a number of deals and all have been unique in its own way,” says Ms Ekambaram. Right from acquisition of the Goodknight brand by Godrej to the the book building deal for Hughes Software, she feels that each deal was delivering a deal of the highest order. “Each and every deal is precious to me,” says Ms Ekambaram.

Ms Ekambaram believes investment banking is all about providing complete solutions to the clients. “ No two deals are the same and investment banking gives leeway to your creativity and that is why I have been on a high right through,” she says. “I am living in the energy of the future as I work, mentally at least, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” says Ms Ekambaram.

When asked if she would do something different if given a chance, Ms Ekambaram says: “I really don’t see my career tag changing. People have an aptitude to do something and I guess my forte lies in this.” Ms Ekambaram feels that it is her desire to excel at everything she does that has helped her to achieve her dreams. What has also helped is her strong intra-personal skills. “ The boss and subordinate relationship is an obsolete concept, teamwork is the rule of the day,” says Ms Ekambaram.

She considers herself lucky because she has always been accepted for her competence and her ability to deliver and not faced any gender bias. Being single, she feels, has helped her save the trouble of trying to strike a balance between home and work. “ It is however, extremely crucial to maintain a balance between work and other interests,” she says. A trained Bharatnatyam dancer, Ms Ekambaram enjoys dancing in any form. Exercising, gardening and spending time with her family is what keeps her busy away from work.