Grindlays having introduced Merchant Banking in India way back in 1967, was always in the forefront in making pioneering moves on the Indian banking scene. So when in the late 1980 and early 1990s, technology revolution in banking had just started to roll in with ATMs (HSBC introduced first ATMs in 1987) and computerisation was making inroads to do away with the manual bank ledgers, Grindlays already had introduced Bankmaster as its Core Banking System (CBS). At Grindlays, all efforts on innovation were focused either around the launch of new technology based products like ATMs at branches (Grindlays was one of the first few banks with ATMs at its branches) or Credit Cards (it was the first foreign bank in India to launch credit cards in 1989 then came Citi Bank in 1990 and then HSBC in 1992) or improving the customer experience/ relationships at branches. Keeping in mind the Banks’ focus on relationships, my 1992 batch of Management Trainees posted in Calcutta was eager to try out new initiatives, especially when it came to customers at our flagship branches Viz Shakespeare Sarani or Chowringhee or N S Road. When an idea of “supper theatre” performance for bank customers got floated, my batch latched onto it. We decided to experiment with a performance of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park produced, directed & performed on stage with some of the onstage props being taken from the Bank’s 19 N S Road chummery and the backstage support fully in-housed by our batch of MTs exclusively for the elite customers.
The play was a huge success and was the talk of the Bank. On request, the troupe had an encore՜ performance at Calcutta, followed by two more at Madras.
Since I landed at Calcutta in early June I experienced the end of summer sweltering heat, followed by water logging during the rains which sometimes play spoilsport by extending till Durga Puja. This is the time when Calcutta true to its moniker, The City of Joy shines bright at night with the festivities at its peak and pandals occupying almost the entire road bring the city to a stand still. Durga Puja holiday gave me a good opportunity to rope in both my chummery mates alongwith one of our local friends to join us for a quick sortie to Darjeeling. We took the overnight Rocket bus to New Jalpaiguri, followed by a car ride along the winding road with the toy train tracks running along all the way to Darjeeling. At Darjeeling we enjoyed our breakfasts at the picturesque Glenary’s cafe which on a good day gives you a majestic view of the Kanchenjunga. Another sortie that we managed during our stay was to Bhubaneshwar, Puri, Konark and back when we got stalled on the way back
due to one of the Bengal Jyoti Basu days.
During our management training we had to visit Madras twice for our class room training modules at the Grindlays Regional Training Centre (GRIT) – the first time was in August for Retail Banking and then in Dec for the Trade Finance and Treasury Module. At GRIT the entire MT batch of 50 plus would converge from across the country for the classroom training sessions. Interestingly, at a time when Manmohan Singh as the Hon. Finance Minister, was leading the economic liberalisation for the country, our MT batch too included his namesake. Our batch, through its sheer size, would end up occupying almost the entire Trident Hotel near the Madras Airport and for the 2-3 weeks we were holed up there, would utilize all its facilities to the hilt. Going to GRIT was like going back to college, albeit with a very strict Principal who would monitor all the ongoings.
In the evenings, everyone would let their hair down post the gruelling GRIT sessions with a late evening dip in the pool, some leg pulling, a bit of light hearted flirting with fun and laughter sessions continuing till late into the night.During one of our modules, our Calcutta MT batch also enthralled other MTs with a repeat performance of our much acclaimed Barefoot in the Park. However, the post classroom exercises ensured the rigour continued beyond the classrooms and brought seriousness to the training which as I look back, has benefited one and all. The visit of the top management teams, would also lead to the MTs jostling to interact with these individuals whilst enjoying a lavish dinner.
Our 2nd session at GRIT ended on 6th December,1992, the same day the Babri Masjid demolition episode happened. I had routed my return to Calcutta from Madras via Bombay to be able to enroute՜ catch up with my folks and of course Rupali, whom I was courting then. As I arrived in Bombay on the evening of 6th Dec, there was a tense atmosphere all over. Next day, I managed to make it to the airport for my early morning Calcutta flight. At Calcutta, I made it to our chummery and then had to hold out along with my 2 chummery mates for the next fews days due to the curfew. Shortly after our return we got our final postings. Grindlays credit card being a pioneering product in India, had got an overwhelming response. The cards division was reeling under pressure and needed reinforcements. I along with a couple of other batch mates got our posting at the card division and I finally moved back to Bombay. I joined the credit cards division housed at Mint Road.
At Bombay, Grindlays had a very plush set up with the corporate HQ in a heritage building at M G Road, near Hutatma Chowk. Here, due to our colonial linkages, the overall ambience as well as the lunch rituals continued to be very British. Lunch used to be a 3 course meal followed by a short break in the adjoining siesta room. The Breach Candy branch, near the then American Consulate, was our flagship Ultra High Networth Individual (UHNI) branch. This branch attempted an innovation with an experiment for a drive-in cash window. This was subsequently discontinued but later taken up at the Haddows road branch at Chennai. Breach Candy branch was one of the branches where the Bank had pioneered by introducing an art gallery within its branch premises. The customers would be invited to sit at the lounge and be served coffee while they were being attended to or could simply walk around to have a look at the art gallery. This was subsequently extended to 3 other branches after the Captain Grindlays Club initiative was launched. This was also a precursor to the Cafe՜ concept introduced much much later by ABN Amro.
At Grindlays, executives were encouraged to pursue extra curricular activities such as golf, cricket or even sailing. Since retail bankers had saturday half days, extra curricular activity could accommodate only an occasional game of T20 cricket at Bombay Gym. I also got a chance to enjoy 40 overs corporate cricket one day matches during our annual South East Asia Cricket jamboree once at Delhi and then at Madras.
However, since the corporate bankers had a 5 day week, for them it revolved around a game of golf either at the US club at Navy Nagar or Willingdon Gymkhana followed by participation in Corporate Golf tournaments. Not many employees were aware of the Bank’s seabird class sailboat moored off the Gateway of India. Employees could book the sail boat at a very nominal fee just enough to cover the tindal’s (boatsman) expense. After I learnt about the sailboat, I decided to put it to good use by booking it for a romantic sailing trip off the Gateway of India on a sunday to woo Rupali. While sailing, I surprised her with a ring. That romantic boat ride managed to do the trick for me as we eventually got married in Sept 1993.
It’s been 26 years since then and we are still going strong. I continued with Grindlays till March 1994.
After a few years the regulator continued to turn the heat on the ANZ Group for the role of Grindlays in the Harshad Mehta stock market scam of 1992. Finally, in 2000 ANZ gave in and sold its stake to Standard Chartered Bank (StanC) and ANZ Grindlays subsequently got fully merged with StanC. However, the grind we went through during the MT induction program stood all of us in a good stead as most of our batchmates are playing leadership roles with some even having attained celebrity status across the BFSI space be it in Investment Banking, Corporate Debt/ Advisory with International roles or have gone on to be a force behind success stories like Kotak Mahindra Bank/ top private Banks / NBFCs or have successfully launched new initiatives like “digital only” banking outfits in Far East Asian countries like Vietnam or so on and so forth. Some others have opted to move into alternate careers writing books and screenplays for movies, writing on the art scene, launching experiential tours, taken to Youtube to launch a focused platform for career, education , study tips with some of the content having over 1M views or some have taken the leap of faith with startups.
The bonding amongst the ex-Grindlays Bank (XGB) community with representations across the world in the Middle East, Canada, Singapore, Australia, U.K, France continues to be strong. Every year we XGBs hold a gala dinner to catch up and relive the everlasting GB memories. At one such dinner, I bumped into someone who was a panelist, more than 25 years ago, during my Bajaj campus selection. As we exchanged notes, he recalled our interaction and shared what tilted the decision in my favour then was the clarity of thought in my answer to his question on why I opted out of my cricketing aspirations for a corporate career. Looking back philosophically, I realise that the decision to recruit me had less to do with the knowledge I gained at Bajaj and more to do with the wisdom from my own learnings in life !
Our batch of 50 odd MTs continues to be the movers and shakers, always taking that extra effort beyond the annual gala dinner, to keep in touch to relive the golden memories such as those of our “Barefoot in the Park” days. Cheers to that!
P.S: FYI, till 1992-93 Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai were still called Bombay, Calcutta and Madras respectively.
Acknowledgements: My batch mates Amita Kini Singh, Vinay Nigam for factual inputs, Narender Gupta for access to link to his website, my friend Ashish Parulekar for help with edits and all XGBs who have contributed to these memories.