Yes Man: The Untold Story of Rana Kapoor. Pavan C. Lall. Harper Business. 240 pages. Rs 299.
Pavan C. Lall, a financial journalist who has worked for some of the reputed publications, has done a decent job in tracing the rise and fall of YES Bank Ltd, more particularly Rana Kapoor or the YES man in his book “YES MAN - The untold story of Rana Kapoor”.
Written lucidly and in a racy style, YES MAN delves into how Rana Kapoor made it big from “middle-class trappings to billionaire banker” before the great fall with Kapoor’s arrest on 8 March 2020.
Though Lall has done a good job in profiling the rise and fall of YES Bank Ltd and Kapoor, it seems to be lacking some punch. Has he probably avoided getting into the politics behind the rise of Kapoor?
We will come to that later, but there is no doubt that Lall has done a good job in tracking many of the key players or those connected with the Bank or Kapoor to present the facts.
At the very start, Lall brings to light how Kapoor, who never saw hard times growing up, was born to a commercial flight pilot and went to an ordinary college for his graduation in economics.
He then went to Rutgers in New Jersey, US, for his MBA and his entry into Bank of America (BankAm) was dramatic. BankAm only recruited trainees who had degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, but his mother pulled strings to get her son there.
Kapoor’s career virtually took off vertically from there as the BankAm’s country head, Vikram Talwar, was very impressed with him.
Early in his career, Kapoor was “get-go” man, aspiring to be a promoter. Though he came up with high performances, they came with rough edges.
In no time, he headed BankAm’s wholesale banking business, got transferred to Jakarta and returned in 1988 as the bank’s Delhi head and in charge of non-resident Indian (NRI) business.
Though the talk was Kapoor had done a stellar job in Jakarta, no one was sure what he did. He then locked horns with the new country head, Ambi Venkateswaran, and finally got dismissed for wrong handling of business with Reliance Industries that resulted in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) calling up Venkateswaran.
Given how ambitious he was, Kapoor then joined hands with his co-brother-in-law, Ashok Kapur, and enlisted the then Deutsche Bank India head Harkirat Singh to launch YES Bank.
The RBI gave its go-ahead in 2002.
Dutch Rabobank was to partner the three in the launch, but before that Singh made a sudden exit, which is attributed to Kapoor taking the lead in veering off the roadmap the former laid for his dream vision.
Singh had envisioned the bank as one that would work with the rural and farming community, but Kapoor and Kapur wanted the new kid on the block to be a corporate bank and as an investment bank that digressed from the original roadmap.
Thus, Singh felt betrayed and left. The rumours were that Kapoor and Kapur worked to impress upon Rabobank India in charge to veer off the pre-destined route.
Kapur was to pay for his role in joining hands with Kapoor later. Though Kapur was the Chairman, Kapoor as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) began to wield influence and portrayed YES Bank as an effort of a one-man army.
Much to his dismay, Kapur found himself sidelined and his office space shrunk before the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai on Oberoi Hotel ended his life.
After Kapur’s death in the gun attack, Kapoor became more ambitious and rejected the former family’s claim for a seat on the Bank’s Board of Directors.
Kapoor was eager to deny them the space that even without the family applying for a seat, the Board, which was filled with his own 'yes people', rejected the application.
Kapoor seemed to be so enamoured by his own personality that Kapur’s death was dismissed as a brief note in the page under Directors in the Bank’s annual statement.
The YES Bank CEO then managed to keep out Kapur’s daughter, Shagun Kapur Gogia, from the Board of Directors until the Bombay High Court struck the Board’s decision and directed that she be made a member.
Before Gogia moved the court, she wrote to the RBI and met its officials. Probably, it is here where Lall could have tried to find out what really stopped RBI from looking into a genuine complaint from a member of the promoter’s family.
The central bank could have ignored her claims once or twice. But why did the RBI continue rejecting time and again the Kapur family’s claims, particularly when the Gogia case began to figure in the media?
Lall has some food for thought with how some of the rating agencies had rated YES Bank as “overperforming” despite problems with its accounts.
Only UBS flagged the concern, but it resulted in Kapoor issuing a strong denial that probably indicated that there was no smoke without fire.
Unfortunately, the UBS caution did not receive due attention except for YES Bank stocks plunging the next day before finding their way up again.
Lall brings in quite a few interesting observations such as Kapoor being in the same residential enclave — Samudra Mahal in Mumbai — as defaulters such as Nirav Modi and how the YES Bank CEO had a love to buy big properties.
This includes one in Delhi where he outwitted Indigo Airlines founder using his own means, including using a firm in which his wife was involved, to buy the property from Gautam Thapar.
If one were to go by Lall’s accounts, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate and other officials have a tough job on hand, though they have done a commendable job in identifying the various companies in which Kapoor’s family has interests.
But for an Assets Quality Review (AQR) launched by RBI after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, it’s anyone guess if the irregularities and various flouting of norms by ICICI, Axis, YES and Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Banks would have come to light.
Lall makes a succinct comparison of YES Bank's dip in fortunes through under-reporting of its finances with that of Satyam Computers.
RBI found YES Bank not complying with the norms in 2017 and since then, the bank's performance simply slid down the ladder before being taken over by State Bank of India.
Nothing is more revealing about YES Bank's handling of finances than Lall quoting Shriram Subramanian, founder of InGovern Research Service as saying: “YES Bank seems to have been the lender of last resort; lending to companies of all hues is eventually what tripped the bank up.”
Look at the companies that YES Bank lent money to — Jet Airways, CG Power, Cox and Kings, DHFL, and IL&FS. Is it a coincidence that the lender and the loanees all ended up in a deep financial mess?
When under pressure, Kapoor had remarked “anti-Punjab banker” sentiments amidst power circles in the business world. He pointed out how Axis Bank’s Shikha Sharma and Chanda Kochchar ( whose husband is a Punjabi) as examples of this.
Luckily, the remarks were made much before the farmers’ agitation in Delhi against the agricultural reform laws!
Despite the drawbacks that the book could have scrutinised developments surrounding YES Bank more, it nevertheless comes out as a good profile of the man behind its rise and fall.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.