By Thomas Shambler
Regional CEO of Standard Chartered, Sunil Kaushal, on being unique in a crowded market, making decisions in uncertain times, and why the first three hours of the day are his most important
What makes Standard Chartered stand out in a crowded banking market?
We are one of the oldest banks in the world. Originally, the bank was formed under a charter to support business within the British Empire. Ultimately, it evolved into one of the most unique franchises in the world, with more focus on Asia, the Middle East and Africa than any other bank in the world. Our rich history, franchise and deep knowledge of some of the most challenging – and yet, some of the most exciting – markets has seen us grow the business to help manage the wealth, investments, trade and capital flows of our clients.
Is there still room to grow?
Absolutely. If all goes well, this could be one of the fastest growing banks in the world. After all, we are uniquely positioned to support trade, commerce and the creation of wealth for all our clients across the world.
What's one barrier to that growth? What's a big challenge that the industry is currently facing?
There are several challenges in the banking industry. I would say the landscape has changed dramatically post-financial crisis. I think the biggest one at the moment is the settling down of new regulations. There have been – for all the right reasons, I'd say – many significant changes in regulations over the past few years, and the industry is still grappling with these changes. It has impacted growth in banks across the world, although we're seeing a strong turnaround in fortunes for banks, especially in the US.
Where do good ideas come from at Standard Chartered?
The best ideas come from our staff, but not necessarily from those at a senior level. We value all ideas, from the people who manage the operations as well as those who deal with clients on a day-to-day basis. There's no substitute for being at ground-level when it comes to getting feedback from clients, and we'll take any creative advice on how to improve the way we do business that we can get.
How do you inspire and nurture that creativity within the company?
I don't think it's something that you can just turn on or switch off. A manager can't demand an employee have X number of good ideas, for example. Creative thinking can only come from creating an environment that promotes the sharing of ideas. I don't believe that when people talk about ideas or the thoughts they've had that they are necessarily being creative right there and then, but these conversations could go on to become something that ends up benefiting the bank. Ultimately, it's about supporting the free flow of discussion and information sharing, and encouraging people to speak their mind without fear of rejection.
What's most important for your company, its mission, core values or vision?
It's difficult to pick one at the expense of the others. All are important. Our core values define what we are and how we get things down. Vision is necessary to create a roadmap toward where we want to be. And the mission is a rallying call towards that goal – it's what allows us to wake up each morning ready and excited to help the bank deliver.
As a CEO, how do you make decisions? What is your process?
I have three decades of experience across nine regions under my belt, and I'm still experimenting and adapting. I think it's very important to understand the context of a decision, and getting all the facts. Then you need to be open to feedback, and allow others to express their views. Only then can I reach a conclusion. However, there's no point dillydallying about it. Make the decision and get on with it.
What's the best part about your job?
I believe we have a very unique culture. It's a very warm organisation, and it has become more than home for me. I enjoy working most with the people we have, and the diversity we have. It is a very inclusive organisation.
Is there someone who has had an impact on you as a leader?
Several people, past and present, have had an impact on me. But I believe that no one is perfect, so there can never be a single role model that you need to follower. There have been leaders who have influenced by their sheer focus and determination, while others have impressed me with their broad vision and the ability to think big. But I think if I had to pick the single biggest influence, it would be my father. In many ways he was my mentor, a friend, a guide and a philosopher.
Let's say you have two equally qualified job candidates sat in front of you for the same role. How would you determine which one to hire?
The most important thing for me would be passion, the dream in their eyes. Next it comes down to their ability to connect with myself and the team. Having the right chemistry with the team is very important.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the very first time?
To talk less, listen and be accessible. Spend time with your troops, not alone. I think that is very important. Anyone going into a leadership position will no doubt be smart, but intelligence isn't everything. When you hear about a great leader no one ever says, "He was very smart". Instead, it's about being grateful and grounded. Also, try to be good to everyone you work with and meet. Life has a tendency to move fill circle. You never know who you might need in future.
What's your greatest fear in business?
I fear the external factors. You can put in all the work in the world, but sometimes an external factor that you cannot control comes in and affect the outcome. When that happens it is very easy to look into the rear view mirror and worry about what could have been done to change the past. I don't see that as regret, but more disappointment. Regardless, one should swiftly move on.
How do you prepare for those unforeseen external factors? How do you prepare for that type of uncertainty?
The best way – the only way, really – is to have a business model that doesn't rely on any single segment, country or product for its growth and survival. A diversified business is the best hedge bet you can have. Of course, costs need to be kept under control and managing risk is also important.
What's one productivity tip you wish everyone else knew?
It's all about managing your time efficiently. I recently found an app that reads magazines and text via audio application, which means I can catch up with daily and monthly briefs while I exercise, which saves me a lot of time.
What drives you to get out of bed each morning?
To prove to myself and others of what I am capable of delivering and to create a legacy within the bank. I also remind myself that many people and their families depend on my both personally and professionally. That's what drives me each day at work to deliver beyond expectations.
How do you manage such a large company and still find time for things like family?
It's very important to set up your organizational structure so that it provides you with a regular feedback loop, which lets you see the big picture as well as the smaller details. You need to put the right people in the right jobs so that you don't have to look over their shoulders, but at the same time have a robust review process so you know what's happening around the company. If I am being honest, the week is very much work-focussed and it's family time at the weekends.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I am up at 4:45 each morning, and then head to the gym. I work out for at least an hour and twenty minutes, and then try and have breakfast after that – outdoors, whenever possible. Then I head into work. I am required to make decisions primarily, and so I make sure that gets priority over other tasks. I have lunch at my desk – just something quick and easy, like a salad or a soup or something. I try and be home by eight in the evening, to have dinner with the family and spend time with them after that. But I am in bed by ten.
Do you have any daily rituals? Thinks that help prepare you for the day?
As you can tell, I am a morning person. That time spent in the gym helps me prepare for the day, as I do a lot of thinking while I work out. Those extra hours before I get into work each morning really set me up to get things done afterwards.
What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to be a banker. As a child, I was fascinated by the people who worked in these big shiny buildings. My father was the CEO of a steel company, and his building was always covered in grime and dust. By comparison, bankers worked in comfortable and beautiful locations, in the very heart of many cities. So that prompted my first interest, and then the more I learned the more I knew it's what I wanted to be doing.