Axis Bank brings on board Nilesh Shah

Nilesh Shah, former CIO at ICICI Prudential AMC, changes course and takes on a strategic role at India's Axis Bank, including overseeing investment banking.

Axis Bank has made a high-profile hire by bringing on board Nilesh Shah in a senior management role.

The former chief investment officer of ICICI Prudential AMC joins Axis Bank as president of strategic initiatives in its corporate banking division but he is also charged with leading Axis Bank’s investment banking department, according to a press release issued by the Mumbai-based bank.

Shah joined ICICI Prudential in June 2004 and was promoted to deputy managing director in 2007. He resigned in December last year.

The hire is testament to Axis Bank boss Shikha Sharma’s ability to attract top talent. She joined the bank as chief executive in June 2009 after a long innings at ICICI group, most recently as the chief executive of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance.

One of Sharma’s first moves in August, just weeks after she joined, was to poach Srinivasan Vardarajan to head both the treasury and corporate banking at Axis. Srinivasan was then treasurer for J.P. Morgan in India. He had been at the US investment bank since 1998 and was at ICICI Securities before that. When he resigned, sources said Sharma lured him to Axis Bank with the challenge of doing something new and being part of the top management, entrusted with strategic decision-making.

Sharma had earlier worked with Srinivasan at ICICI Securities, the investment banking subsidiary of ICICI Bank – and Shah also worked with both Sharma and Srinivasan at ICICI Securities. Those relationships clearly play a big part in the decision, but, like Srinivasan, Shah will also have been attracted by Axis’s growth potential and the opportunity to do something new.

Indeed, Sharma has big plans for Axis Bank. She was part of the team that saw ICICI, which used to be a development financial institution, transform into a financial services conglomerate led by ICICI Bank, which has grown into India’s largest private-sector lender and has earned a reputation in capital markets for being able to launch deals whenever a window opens. And Sharma is replicating this at Axis Bank. Last year, Axis made a successful first foray into the 144a market with a $500 million 5.5-year deal at a time when market conditions were challenging.

Investment banking is a business Sharma identified early as an area for Axis Bank to ramp up. In 2009, she hired Samita Shah, who had also worked as a managing director at Credit Suisse, to head the division. Shah resigned for personal reasons last year.

Last year Sharma, struck a deal that catapulted Axis Bank into the big league of investment banking when she took over the investment banking and equities business of Enam Securities, one of the few purely domestic investment banks remaining. J.P. Morgan, Barclays and Nomura are all rumoured to have considered a takeover of Enam, attracted by its well-entrenched position in both broking and equity capital markets.

Sharma orchestrated a deal that saw Enam’s investment banking, institutional equities, retail equities and related businesses, such as distribution of financial products, merge into a wholly owned subsidiary of Axis Bank. In all, Axis added around 400 employees. The all-share deal meant it did not have to put cash on the table for the buy, rather the Enam shareholders bought a 3.37% stake in Axis. Enam co-founder and chairman Vallabh Bhansalli also got a berth on the Axis board as an independent director.

Enam-veteran Manish Chokhani is managing director and CEO of the merged entity, which is called Axis Securities and Sales. Some sources suggest that Chokhani might leave to pursue something more entrepreneurial after an agreed lock-up. And Shah could be coming on board now to ensure a smooth transition.

In addition, Shah will also be ramping up areas such as private banking and wealth management on which Axis Bank has a focus.

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