Uday Kotak: The early years

Uday Kotak on his aspiration to establish a global institution that would go on to live forever

“It’s true that I have always been very comfortable with numbers,” says Uday Kotak, the founder, executive vice-chairman and managing director of the India-headquartered bank that bears his name.

“A lot of family members worked in the joint commodities family business. It was a classic case of capitalism at work and socialism at home,” says Mr Kotak.

He has warm memories of a childhood marked by a “collegial and friendly atmosphere” followed by happy school days in the Mumbai school “where it wasn’t about studying for study’s sake”, he recalls. “It was also about playing sport.” Had Mr Kotak not been a successful entrepreneur, he says, “I would have loved to have been a cricketer.” But even playing cricket, badminton, table tennis and chess still left time for the young Mr Kotak to perform, as he says, “reasonably well throughout [his] school career”.

He describes himself as “completely homegrown” obtaining his first degree and MBA both from Mumbai University and he was “in line” to join Hindustan Unilever, an Indian subsidiary of the multinational consumer goods company, when he had an idea.

“I was not very keen on joining the family business … there were 14 family members working together and it worried me that I would not have enough individuality,” he says, but “I was always very keen on finance”. His father, showing admirable parental judgment, offered him 300 square feet in the family office and said: “Son, you do what you want.”

Mr Kotak credits growing up in a pro-entrepreneurial culture as a positive influence: “All Indians in general are ready to take risks and take the plunge,” he says, but being “able to scale up and realise that building an institutional framework is as important as the early set-up”.

Money has been less of a motivator than “the passion of building”, he says. He suggests that by “focusing on what you do”, money is an outcome of successful entrepreneurship rather than a goal.

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