Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), the oil-to-yarn and retail-to-telecom conglomerate led by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, announced on Thursday that former State Bank of India (SBI) chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya has been appointed as an independent director on the board of the company.
The move is significant for Bhattacharya, who has been ranked no. 1 on the Fortune India Most Powerful Women in business list for four consecutive years between 2014-2017. She is the first woman from outside the Ambani family and only the second ever to be appointed to the board of the company, which was founded by Dhirubhai Ambani in 1977. The only woman director on RIL’s board at present is Nita Ambani, Mukesh Ambani’s wife and chairperson of the Reliance Foundation.
Bhattacharya, 62, who will join as additional director on the board of the ₹7.28 lakh crore company for a period of five years, has been one of the most credible and respected voices of the Indian banking industry ever since she took charge as SBI chief in October 2013. Bhattacharya was also the first woman to be appointed as SBI chairman and is regarded as someone who isn’t afraid to express her opinion, even if that meant contradicting that of the government, which owns SBI, the country’s largest lender.
A banker with four decades of experience (she joined SBI in 1977), Bhattacharya is credited with tackling SBI’s bad loans problem head-on by provisioning for such non-performing assets aggressively, pulling up errant borrowers, and working with borrowers with genuine difficulties to address their problems.
An alumnus of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, where she studied English literature, Bhattacharya also embarked on a drive to modernise SBI’s technology initiatives and make it a more digital-savvy bank to appeal to relatively younger customers. She also engineered the merger of six of SBI’s associate banks with the mother bank itself, creating an entity three times the size of its nearest competitor. The process was completed in barely six months and with minimal disruption.
With her business acumen and in-depth knowledge of the Indian banking industry, Bhattacharya is likely to be much sought-after by various private sector organisations, especially at a time when the financial sector finds itself in the middle of turmoil. Earlier this month it was reported that private equity firm ChrysCapital had appointed Bhattacharya as an advisor. A few media reports that emerged earlier this month also stated that Bhattacharya may be roped in by Ajay Piramal-led Piramal Enterprises to head its financial services business.