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Vaghul, a proud Mandavelian passes sway

Narayanan Vaghul, a doyen of Indian banking sector who

sowed the seeds of financial supermarket ICICI Group and was

instrumental in familiarizing India with modern banking, passed


He was 88 and a resident of Bona Ventura of South Canal Bank

Road in Mandaveli. Vaghul is survived by his wife, son and


A banker par excellence, Vaghul, who received the Padma

Bhushan award in 2009, was the youngest Chairman of a

bank when he helmed the Bank of India at the age of 44

Joining State Bank of India — where the then Chairman of

the bank R K Talwar took a liking to him and took him

under his tutelage Vaghul impressed everybody with his

work and practically became everybody’s blue-eyed boy

When Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena agitated against South

Indians in top positions in SBI, Vaghul was slung into

academics, for a teaching position at the National Institute

of Bank Management

Again, so impressed were the authorities with him that he

soon became the Director of NIBM when he was still in his


From there, he became the executive director of the

Central Bank of India when he was 39 and then the

Chairman of the Bank of India

When Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was made aware of

Vaghul’s talents, he got Vaghul into ICICI (the Industrial

Credit and Investment Corporation of India), to which

institution Vaghul’s name is indelibly attached. 

Born in 1936, Vaghul grew up in a large family with six

brothers and a sister and had his early education at the

Hindu High School and later at the Ramakrishna Mission

School before going to Loyola College for his graduation in


In an interview with Harvard Business School in 2017

Vaghul described how he serendipitously got into banking.

His ambitions lay in civil services, but he as a post-

graduate at 19 narrowly missed the age threshold for

writing the civil services exams.

Instead, a non-serious application to the State Bank of

India got him a job there. It wasn’t long before Vaghul’s

talents and hard work were noticed by Talwar, who made

Vaghul his executive secretary when he was Chairman of

SBI. Mentored by and traveling with

Talwar exposed Vaghul to the world of banking.  

Vaghul describes how, as a young director of NIBM, he

caught the eyes of the then Finance Minister IG Patel

when he (Vaghul) suggested to an irascible Patel to

answer Parliament on a ticklish issue. Patel remembered

“that young man” when the Central Bank of India needed

an able person to steer it out of its troubles. 

From there to a new position as Chairman of Bank of India

was but a short hop, but Vaghul did not last

long there. Frustrated by the “interferences” of the then

finance minister, he quit, overruling the protests of the

then RBI governor, Manmohan Singh

But after a couple of years — when all he did was to write

a column for The Hindu — Vaghul got a call from Prime

Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s office believed to be at the behest

of Manmohan Singh with an offer for the position of

Chairman and Managing Director at ICICI, a position he

held between 1985 and 1996, and continued as its non-

executive Chairman till 2009

During his years, the Indian economy

changed and in tandem with the changes, ICICI morphed

from a development finance institution, giving long-term

loans for large projects, to a commercial bank. ICICI,

which merged into its subsidiary, ICICI Bank in 2002, set

up along with other entities) many enduring institutions,

including the Crisil of which Vaghul was the first Chairman

of NSE and NCDEX. 

humour, one of Vaghul’s defining traits, has been

commented upon by many of his admirers. He was

admitted at Apollo Hospital in Chennai two days ago

after he fell and was unconscious

Vaghul laid the foundation that has also made him

known as the man who introduced the concept of

‘Financial Supermarkets’ to the country, a model

that other prominent banks have also seen to have


In the late 1980s, Vaghul initiated venture capital

endeavors at ICICI and subsequently established its

wholly-owned subsidiary, TDICI, aimed at providing

technology venture capital

The former chairman of ICICI Bank also played a

pivotal role in persuading another luminary, KV

Kamath, to return to India from the Asian

Development Bank in the mid-1990s to head ICICI.

Vaghul brought this freshness of doing something

different, something innovative and at scale and

drove its implementation. And this underpinned

everything that happened thereafter when he led


Vaghul’s mantra for running a company or business

organization was that the success of the business

lies in the choice of people, even if it means making

some tough decisions

Vaghul was a visionary and spawned many

institutions be it rating agency, venture fund

industry. Blessed with a sense of humor, he had

broad shoulders to absorb criticism

He spoke out his mind to power that be without fear,

During the Rajiv Gandhi administration, Vaghul was

entrusted with leading ICICI Bank

Following financial liberalization in 1991, numerous

financial conglomerates emerged, yet Vaghul

indisputably spearheaded this movement. IDBI, UTI,

and SBI all diversified into various sectors of

financial services, drawing inspiration from ICICI's

Vaghul-crafted strategy.

A keen believer in holistic approach to life, he was a

student of Vipassana meditation and Yoga himself.

He advocated spiritual discipline to realize one's full


Going beyond business life, he was also closely

associated with educational institutions like

Pratham and Chennai-based Institute for Financial

Management and Research (IFMR)

Additionally Vaghul served as a director in various

prominent Indian conglomerates, including Wipro,

Mahindra & Mahindra, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise,

and Mittal Steel.


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