Any talk of Rana Kapoor has been known to elicit one of two reactions: bewilderment at his growth and status where he could do no wrong, or questioning, hushed tones which suggested Kapoor was a bubble waiting to burst. Friends of Kapoor, who knew his flamboyant lifestyle, his ability to talk people into doing what he wanted them to do, and his aggressive, ambitious style would regale journalists with stories of how he grew aggressively, the parties he threw, and the connections he had in officialdom.
As reporters, when we would meet Kapoor at his Nehru Centre office in Mumbai in the early days of YES Bank, he would be unfailingly courteous and charming, very often speaking about his vision for the bank, and holding forth on the economy. But as the years went by, and the cracks in the edifice he built became public (in one instance through a major divergence between the bank’s estimate of its problem assets and that of the Reserve Bank of India), his official machinery went into overdrive to try to ensure journalists did not get to probe too deep. It was gradually becoming clear that the problems which financial circles spoke of in hushed tones were on the verge of blowing up into a major issue.
Pavan C. Lall’s book, Yes Man: The Untold Story of Rana Kapoor, delves into the rise and ultimate fall and humiliation of a man who was once celebrated as an entrepreneur of substance, and the creator of a smart, technology-driven, new generation private sector bank. The book pieces together the journey of a man who started out as an ordinary Bank of America employee, and then went on to build an institution which eventually fell because of greed, wild ambition, and the chinks in the system which could be easily exploited by men who think the way Kapoor did.
A long-time financial journalist, Lall is able to piece together a story which is at once compelling reading, and also serves as a grim reminder that the heady cocktail of greed and ambition will only serve to consume an individual, and has the potential to drag an entire institution down in the process, affecting the lives and livelihoods of innocent men and women who placed their trust in the man. Indeed, the fall of YES Bank turned out to be a lesson not just in how institutions ought not to be handled, but also exposed the serious lapses in the system which, if not plugged, can lead to more such unfortunate events in the future.
Lall’s book also comes at a time when Kapoor has once again been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate, this time in connection with an alleged ₹4,300 crore fraud relating to PMC Bank in Maharashtra. The author’s style is evident in the lucid and engaging narrative, and his attention to detail. An example of this presents itself right at the beginning of the book, when Lall describes how “a dishevelled and unshaven Rana Kapoor, dressed in a Polo Ralph Lauren jogging suit and looking both exhausted and visibly disturbed, shied away from the flashbulbs of press cameras as he was hauled off by Enforcement Directorate officials.”
Lall has also become somewhat of an expert on crooked billionaires. His earlier book was on fallen diamantaire Nirav Modi, another story which is still unfolding.
Stories like those of Rana Kapoor and YES Bank often run the risk of turning into boring accounts by burdening the reader with too many facts and figures. Yes Man’s big plus point is that even as it presents in detail the story of Kapoor and his greed, it does so in a manner where the narrative is never compromised.
As with all such rise-and-fall stories, Kapoor’s is also in essence a tale of human frailty, a story of a man who had much going for him until he threw it all away.
(Yes Man: The Untold Story of Rana Kapoor by Pavan C. Lall; Harper Business, ₹499)