How I Ended up in HSBC

I joined ICICI Infotech in August 2001, and HSBC in December, 2004. I think that the ICICI years and all my previous experience, were stepping-stones to finally getting to work for what was arguably the world’s largest bank.

During the ICICI stint of about five years, I was sent off on a couple of overseas assignments, one to Singapore, and the next one to Abu Dhabi, UAE. The Abu Dhabi stint, was supposed to be a twenty day study, discussion, documentation and interaction thingy, but we know how these things turn out don’t we? This assignment lasted about a year.

This is How it Started

Somewhere towards the end of the assignment, somewhere in October 1198/99, it started with a call from Charleson Varghese, aka Charlie. We’ll get right back to this Charlie, but this is pretty much how the call goes.

Charlie paying me respects by calling me Bhai or elder Brother, asking after my health and whereabouts, and me providing him the asked information. He then asks if I’m open to looking at a role in HSBC, and if so can I send him an updated profile, which I do sans any hesitation. Pat came the response, by way of a mail from a HSBC HR recruiter, and the game is afoot. A call gets set up between one of the direct reports of the CEO, and he reveals that he’s looking to move on, and want someone to take his place. The call or rather interview goes well, and the next call within a matter of days, is with an Englishman named Paul Ward, who grills me over the phone, to ascertain my knowledge about how treasuries are run, how settlements take place, how the metals and commodity business are run. I guess that must have gone fairly well, and I’m asked to come to Pune in India for a face to face selection panel interaction.

Slight problem that. The project I’m working on and instrumental in moving along nicely, is for none other than the Abu Dhabi Investment Company, who is actually one of the Sheikh’s investment companies, dealing in everything from exchange traded instruments, to structured products, to brokerage, to investment management and lending. The system we are putting in is merely a replacement for several internationally acclaimed software product companies, including Reuters, nothing substantial. And due to my deep market knowledge and experience in all the above, I’m the chosen one (both by ICICI and by ADIC), in ensuring that it all goes well. No pressure. And it is all going very well, but even thinking about exiting for the briefest period is not something I was really inclined to do. Except, that this was a role with the world’s largest bank (arguably).

And so, I make an excuse that I have to go to India to attend my son’s birth day, and on that basis I travel. I land at some god-awful hour, go home shower and change into a monkey suit, and make the 180 km trek to Pune in my car. As I’m pulling into Pune I get a flat, and having no time to have the said tire fixed, I abandon the car, lest I’m late for the interview.

The Interview

Almost that I arrive at HSBC’s offshore development HQ, I’m ushered into the CEO’s den, and there awaits a formidable panel consisting of the CEO, the Paul Ward (the guy who interviewed me on the phone), the guy I’m supposed to replace, the head of HR, and his deputy I think.

I’m at my fired up best, and in the shortest span of time, I seize the moment and tell them my professional story, which actually commences really humbly, then comes to a crescendo, then follow the some minor reversals (one really big one). Questions are few, if there were any at all, if memory serves me correctly.

The only real question that matters is the one that the CEO asks. “You seem to have done a lot in your life, is there anything you can’t do?”. Instinctively I knew that the answer to this question would be the clincher, and my answer is, “Rumi, the only thing I can’t do is Kiss Ass!”. Little expecting such a response, (you had to be there) there is a look of surprise all around. Rumi, comes back nicely and quips, “Is that so, you’re gonna kiss my ass, and you’re gonna love doing it too!”.

Those Infernal Tests!

The interview is over, and I’m now led away to answer a few tests, language, numerical, and psychoanalytical. It is a whole bloody day of tests, and given I had not answered a test in years, it was not the most pleasant of experiences. I never was presented with the results, but I got the job, so I guess I must have done well, or at the very least made passing grade. I recall having asked the recruiter who first got in touch with me about this, and he says, I’m sure you did well, else there is no way you would have been given this job.

Finally, around 7 pm, Rumi comes by to the conference room where I was situated for the day, and asks why I’m around, like he’s amazed I’m undergoing these tests, and from his tone and body language I know that the job is mine.

Shortly later I find myself headed to the spot where I’ve left my car, hoping it’s still there, get the tire fixed, and am dashing back to Bombay, to attend my son’s birthday party. Later that very night, I’m on a plane back to Abu Dhabi, and back into the fray.

A couple of days later, I receive a mail containing my offer letter. The number isn’t as per my expectation, so I get the number increased just a bit. Not enough but just a bit, after all I was going to be working for the biggest bank in the world (arguably).

Exit from ICICI

Then comes the discussion about the notice I need to serve my current employer. Hell, I had not even thought about that yet, and so I say I will get back to them. I;ve not even broached this topic with my employer, with my dear boss, Ms. Atre, and I’m certain, exiting is not going to be easy. For three reasons, one being that I was doing a damn good job, two that my boss and I got on real well, and finally because the project was at such a critical juncture.

I sum up the courage, have the conversation and Shirish (Ms. Atre), gives in and says she will not stand in the way of my success, but I still need to serve the three months notice.

I go back to the HSBC folks, and have a conversation with them, afraid that they will not agree to the notice period before I come on board, but to my delight, they understand. Rumi, being Rumi, is already thinking ahead, and has my go through the induction at the hands of an experienced and longtime HSBC manager based in Bombay. We meet over a couple of coffees, lunch and he gives my the dynamic of the HSBC world, the role of HSBC technology in the HSBC world, and I’m daunted. Twenty five thousand people in IT, a USD 4 billion IT spend, 80+ countries, yikes!!!

That done, Rumi goes one better, and has me dial in each morning into his management team meeting, and starts copying me in on mails, just so I get to know whats going on, and hit the ground running when I finally come on board some months later.

And that is how I came to work for HSBC.

So Who Exactly is Charlie?

I did say earlier that I will come back to this Charlie character, didn’t I? So here is the story. It is one about respect, friendships, relationships and how doing one good deed, goes such a long way. It is Karma.

Charlie and I met when he and I were both working for System Access (now Sungard), in Singapore. I was under deputation from ICICI to System Access as a specialist on tresaury and financial markets, and during the year I spent in Singapore, Charlie and I became really good friends. There were four of us who shared the bay, Charlie, Mahesh Karle and Alvin Liu, and we called ourselves the Cosa Nostra, given that we became really great friends.

One day he comes to me and says, Bhai (elder brother), I have this opportunity to work for HSBC, and they want to interview me at 3 pm tomorrow, and I have no place where I can take this call. I immediately gave him my hotel room key, and he took the interview, got the job and went to work for HSBC. He never forgot this small good deed I had done and tried on a couple of occasions, to get me into HSBC. The first time around it didn’t work out, but he never stopped trying, and then this whole call in Abu Dhabi happened, and the rest as they say, is history. Eventually Charle came to work for me, as a direct report looking after some key initiatives.

Fond Memories – Great Experience

So this is the story of how I came to work for HSBC. I started off inheriting a team, fired some of the members, added new members, and created the Business Solutions and Consulting Group, then was given the added responsibilites of Corporate Communications, and was tasked with building the global Relationship Management Unit (RMU). Those are stories in themselves, and therefore I will deal with those experiences seperately.

I worked in HSBC exactly five years to the date, and exited due to some unfortunate developments. These five years gave me true international exposure, challenged me, educated me, showed me stratospheric success, made me travel to over thirty countries in every continent. Years that I will always cherish and remember fondly.




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