Sunday 25th February 2018,

Bad Ass Asians

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Are Indian Bankers Fall Guys?

posted by Randall

Anshwu SwainBy Siddarth Sharma

If it happens once, you can shrug it off. If you see it go down twice, well, rational minds have to inquire, right?

The news just came out that Anshu Jain was fired from Deutsche Bank.

The New York Times reports that some large shareholders had called for Mr. Jain and Mr. Fitschen to step down because of a series of large legal penalties imposed on the bank for past wrongdoing, as well as inconsistent profit and questions about the bank’s strategy.

It wasn’t too surprising. The bank was stumbling along ever since the financial crisis and unable to recapture its former glory. The bottom line was that the bank simply could not adapt to the new normal of heightened regulatory requirements and lower customer demand for some very profitable products.

Needless to say, there were enormous reputational “own goals” the bankers managed to inflict on themselves. The big thing here was the LIBOR rate fixing scandals where they manipulated a key benchmark rate for profit.

Ok, you might say. He deserved to get sacked because he ran the company poorly. And I agree with you on that. But I just can’t put aside the fact he was an Indian. I was quite proud of him when he, as a non-German, became one of the leaders of a prestigious global financial institution. He evidently spent a lot of time on speaking German and delivered an investor presentation entirely in the language.

His story is very much like that of Vikram Pandit, the former head of Citigroup. Another guy who made his mark clawing his way to the top of the finance world. He didn’t look like Don Draper, he looked like me! That was one of the reasons why I chose to work at Citi for my first job.

Vikram Pandit

Vikram Pandit

To this day I believe that Vikram was forced out due to politics rather than for any material business reasons.

So what we have here are two Indian origin CEOs who take charge in incredibly tough economic times and are forced out after a few years. While the individual circumstances are different, I can’t get over the feeling that these guys were brought in with an implicit understanding that all the problems of the past few years would be heaped on them and they’d get fired.

They have just few years to do work that realistically needs to take a decade. You’re talking about rewiring Wall Street. The way that people behave in that climate doesn’t change overnight. Literally, the task is to take guys that are told anything is ok as long as it makes money and tell them there are limits. It is unreasonable for any CEO to do this in just a few years. Sure you can sell unprofitable business segments and cut expenses. But to change company culture? That’s a tall order for a mere two or three years.

If this seems like the shedding of tears over guys who have more money than I ever will, you might be right. But role models like these guys show that Asian Americans are not just relegated to the back office. Their mere presence is a powerful source of inspiration for young men and women. But if they’re just scapegoats, this is actually more hurtful than if Asians were ignored. Why put in all that effort if you’re just a sheep that’s being prepared for slaughter?

It feels like they’re fall guys. I can’t prove it, but maybe I need a third data point to make fire out of this smoke…

 

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