In those days, the spirit to appear for competitive exams was very high. Hence, I appeared for almost all the national-level competitive exams’.
As a young management trainee with SAIL, Pallav Mohapatra was spoilt for choice. He had offers from Allahabad Bank, Bank of Baroda, Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank and State Bank of India (SBI).
He chose SBI not because he envisioned a bright future for himself there or was enamoured by the bank’s size, but because it offered him a posting in Lucknow, where his family lived back then.
And the decision may well have been the right one. The new chief executive of SBI Cards in the past three decades with the bank has moved from one milestone to another. Mohapatra has been the head of the bank’s credit appraisal division, vice-president of its subsidiary in California and assistant general manager of the lender’s overseas expansion and foreign offices.
Born in Cuttack, Mohapatra grew up in Lucknow as his family had shifted there. He returned to Odisha to do his post-graduation in statistics from Utkal University.
“In those days, there were limited opportunities for graduates in the private sector. The spirit to appear for competitive exams was very high. Hence, I appeared for almost all the national-level competitive exams,” Mohapatra recounts.
He succeeded in all of them — for recruitment of probationary officers in banks, administrative officers in National Insurance Company and management trainees in SAIL. The state-run steel maker was the first to offer him a placement and Mohapatra joined SAIL’s steel plant in Bokaro as an administrative officer in February, 1983.
But the opportunity to stay with his family in Lucknow persuaded him to join SBI as a probationary officer 11 months later. He has never changed his job since. “At SBI, I was exposed to different businesses across geographies. It has been such an amazing experience that I did not feel like leaving the bank,” Mohapatra says.
In the initial days after joining SBI, he had appeared for the civil services exam and was selected for the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS). But, he decided to stay with SBI.
He became the first managing director and chief executive of SBI SG Global Securities Services, a joint venture between SBI and Societe Generale and has worked extensively on SBI’s payments business project.
In October 2012, he was named as the chief executive of SBI Cards to replace Kadambi Narahari, who superannuated in the previous month. “Till this appointment, my experience in credit cards was only as a user,” Mohapatra says with a grin.
SBI Cards is currently the third-largest credit card issuer in the country, with a portfolio of 2.42 million cards at the end of September 2012. Mohapatra will be responsible for expanding the market share and growing the credit cards business profitably.
In his youth, Mohapatra loved cricket (he represented his university and SBI at various tournaments), but he seldom plays the game now. Instead, whenever he has time, he prefers reading non-fiction books. Spending time with family, of course, remains this veteran banker’s priority.