India's Largest Bank Gets a Female CEO

India's Largest Bank Gets a Female CEO

Arundhati Bhattacharya is the first woman Chair-Managing Director of the State Bank of India (SBI) in its 208-year-history, and she holds one of the most powerful positions on the Asian subcontinent.

SBI is India’s most important financial institution controlling a fifth of India’s bank assets. It is India’s largest lender with some $380 billion in assets, employing 220,000 staff in its 15,000 branches. Bhattacharya, named the 36th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2014, joined SBI in 1977 as a fresh recruit. She has held several positions during her 36-year career with the bank including working in foreign exchange, treasury, retail operations, human resources and investment banking. When the Indian economy showed signs of slowing, she strongly advocated for major reforms across agriculture, industry, and the financial sector.

Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson of SBI
Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson of SBI

Having reached the top of SBI herself, Bhattacharya is now pushing through a broad program of change, including a revamping of the bank’s huge workforce and increasing productivity with technologies such as mobile banking. Helping other female executives rise is part of that mission, and recognizing that women are still the primary caregivers, she says, “We have allowed a special sabbatical of two years, which people can take three times in their career, usually for reasons of child-rearing or looking after sick people.” Bhattacharya has won admirers for both her no-nonsense approach and scrupulous honesty and in helping to restore faith in the public sector giant.

India has a history of women leading banks: Naina Lal Kidwai of HSBC and Chanda Kochhar of ICICI.


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