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How an Apeejay alumnus and aviation engineer did a reboot to evolve into a high-flying banker

Anoop Kohli, Senior Vice President Banking and Director Advisory, Yes Bank, says he picked up early lessons in leadership as a student of Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park



He left the aviation sector in the late 1990s and landed on his feet to reboot and launch a spectacular banking career. After learning the nuances of the sector with Citibank and HDFC Bank, Anoop Kohli joined Yes Bank and now looks after their business for north India. In a wide-ranging interview, Yes Bank’s Senior Vice President Banking and Director Advisory, discusses the merits of virtual currency, provides tips to those who want to pursue a career in banking and goes down memory lane, sharing his memories of the time that he spent at his alma mater, Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park. Edited excerpts:

Please tell us how your professional journey has unfolded?

I completed my schooling from Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park, or as it was then known as, Apeejay School, Sheikh Sarai, in 1992. After schooling I completed my engineering in Electrical and Electronics in Bengaluru from 1992-1996 during which I did a final-year internship at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore and worked there for another year after finishing my engineering from the MVJ College of Engineering. I was fortunate to have been picked up by HAL during a campus placement. But since I had been staying away from home for close to five years, I decided to return to Delhi. Once I returned to my hometown, I got an opportunity to be part of Gulf Air and was subsequently posted in Bahrain as an on-board engineer.

You have a strong background in engineering and aviation technology. How did you embark upon a career in banking?

I’d say I had to reinvent because of circumstances.  I had one year’s work experience with HAL and I had also trained with them for one year before that. That is why Gulf Air picked me up as an on-board engineer. During the mid-1990s, an on-board engineer was de rigueur, particularly in aircraft such as the Boeing 747, a large, long-range wide-body airliner. Unfortunately for me, the industry was on the brink of phasing out such job profiles. Although I worked with them for two years, they phased out the job function and on-board engineers were no longer required on such planes. When I returned to India from Bahrain, I had to start on a clean slate and reinvent. Fortunately, despite my technical background, I had made good contacts with many seniors who had completed their MBA degrees and ventured into banking.  I decided to follow this alternative career trajectory and pursue a career in banking. I began with Citibank, which was a big name at that time and looking at my experience, I could begin as a branch manager right away. So, my foray into banking began with Citibank and from there I went to HDFC and finally now I am with Yes Bank. Simultaneously, I’ve also finished my MBA Finance from the Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning.

What do your profile and job responsibilities with Yes Bank entail?

I am part of the bank’s senior management. At the moment I am looking after the business for north India. My designation is Senior Vice President Banking and Director Advisory. My job doesn’t involve going and sitting in a cabin. I don’t have direct dealings with clients or players in the market. My role has more to do with strengthening connections between various functions such as network and data, sales and operations and looking into day-to-day operations, sales and assets under management (AUM). Say, a particular branch has a portfolio of 100 crores, and handles business of 30 crores every month. The assets they are managing every month are the AUM of the branch. In my case, my AUM will be the sum-total of all the branches in my area that is the north of India.

Did you think that you would go into the banking sector when you were younger?

Not exactly. In 1992, when I completed school, Science was a priority for most students and parents. Commerce was not as popular as it is today. Every stream that a child aspires for these days presents almost equal job opportunities. Choosing the Science stream was on the basis of a high percentage in class 10. I chose non-medical and went in for engineering. So, I initially aspired to pursue a technical role. But I had to change gears when the profile of an on-board engineer was phased out and I went in for an MBA. Since I already had a cumulative experience of three years with HAL and Gulf Air, I thought an MBA would be the right way to go. But at that point of time, leaving my job and returning to management school for two years was not a feasible option. Today even that scenario has changed. But in the 1990s, things were slightly different. So, I pursued an MBA from Symbiosis Pune in the off-campus mode.

You have rebooted and amazingly reinvented yourself in a corporate avatar. How challenging was that?
It was not really easy after three years of work experience. I realised that engineering or any other specialisation amounts to a graduation degree in the ultimate analysis, whether it is a degree from a university or a four-year engineering course. A majority of those who clear CAT and go in for MBAs in the country’s elite colleges are IITians or those with an engineering background. So, one still needs to pursue an MBA.

Tell us about the time you spent at Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park?

I have fond memories of my teachers, most of whom have retired. For most of the years that I was studying, our Principal was Mr RS Chauhan and for the final two years, it was Mr SC Arora. Among the teachers I fondly remember Mrs Jawa, Mrs Amita Singh, Mrs Reeta Kale, Mrs Hansuka and Mrs Shakuntala Tripathi and many other teachers who helped me become the person I am. I am fond of all my teachers and ensure to stay in touch with them. In fact, I was recently invited as a guest of honour to an investiture ceremony in my alma mater and it was a proud moment for my family and me. I was also invited to honour and pay gratitude to Mrs Suneeta Gupta’s retirement farewell programme.

Please share any life lessons that you picked up in school that helped you later in your life.

During the time I studied, it was perceived as one of the most prestigious schools in Delhi. There was a very distinctly different personal connection that the teachers shared with students. They provided personal attention and grooming to every student that perhaps wasn’t prevalent in schools other than Apeejay I feel. I also picked up valuable lessons in leadership. Every student at Apeejay, Panchsheel Park, was given multiple opportunities to display their leadership, communication skills and aptitude, irrespective of whether the students were on the prefectorial board or not. During the annual day celebrations, the management and teaching staff ensured that each and every student felt a sense of participation, whether it was singing in a choir or joining a dance group. That brought in a sense of belonging and accepting people as one big family. This helped us develop a sense of community. Ultimately, that is what good leadership is about: Taking everyone along to move forward.

Please share some success tips for those who want to pursue a career in the banking industry?

First, regardless of whether you are from the Science, Commerce, or Humanities stream, you must ensure to grow with the system. You have to bring everyone together and move ahead. Once you have a good team in place, the growth will happen on its own.

Secondly, career prospects in banking are wide-ranging these days. You could look at focusing on investment banking or retail banking. Nowadays banks have investment managers and an altogether wide-ranging plethora of products to serve customers. It is a huge departure from the pre-conceived image of a bank manager or customer relationship manager sitting behind the cashier’s counter . That’s not what banking is all about these days. You need not visit a bank or a banker may not visit you but the banker will still help you invest and grow your money by investing it into diverse banking instruments and attractive investment options.

“To be honest, virtual currency is in a volatile state right now. At present it is in a nascent stage in India. People are not really able to comprehend its nuances. The 2022 Union Budget earlier this month in a sense gave a legal validation to trading of cryptocurrency. But if you take a closer look at its prospects, it can be a very volatile instrument to invest into.”

-Anoop Kohli, Senior Vice President Banking and Director Advisory, Yes Bank

What are your views on the advent of virtual currency and the future of cryptocurrency in India?

To be honest, virtual currency is in a volatile state right now. With the kind of liberalisation that the government did in the 2022 Union Budget earlier this month by taxing it at 30 per cent, in a sense, it has given a legal validation to trading of cryptocurrency. But if you take a closer look at its prospects, it can be a very volatile instrument to invest into. At present it is in a nascent stage in India. People are not really able to understand its nuances. They may be tempted into putting their hard-earned money into it just on the basis of hearsay. Therefore, I don’t perceive anything particularly exciting about the future of digital currency at the moment. 

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74