Some seven years ago, a business news television channel had organised a soiree for CEOs of the Indian industry, where the highlight was a live performance of golden-era Bollywood melodies. Nobody could have enjoyed that evening more than Keki Mistry, vice-chairman and CEO, Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC), who couldn’t help nodding away with gusto as the performers belted out Zara haule haule chalo and Aage bhi jaane na tu. Nayyar and Ravi are all very well, but it’s really Hemant Kumar all the way for Mistry.
At work, he has been known never to miss a beat when it comes to handling numbers. A chartered accountant by training, Mistry has always been a numbers man. His colleagues speak of how he could remember numbers to the sixth or seventh decimal point till a few years ago. That penchant for perfection manifests itself in his habit of repeatedly relooking and revising drafts before he can let them go.
Mistry has a reputation for being open and approachable. Many at HDFC credit him with imbuing the organisation with a culture of open communication and accessibility. Of course, a relatively flat organizational structure has helped enable that as much as it has helped propel Mistry through the ranks.
He joined HDFC in 1981 as an assistant manager in the accounts department and made his way up to join its board in 1993. He was appointed to his current role in 2010. Under Mistry, HDFC’s market capitalization has moved up to $54.5 billion from $23 billion. The lender is today the second-largest provider of finance for Indian homebuyers.
Mistry has helped score many firsts for his organisation – itself a pioneer in mortgage finance – starting with the introduction of floating-rate loans in 1999. HDFC was an early mover in raising money through foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs) and rupee-denominated masala bonds. As HDFC prepares to meld into its progeny, Mistry’s legacy will live on in the subsidiaries whose inception and growth he oversaw. Right from 1994, when HDFC joined hands with GE to set up Countrywide Consumer Financial Services, he has been a crucial part of every new venture incubated by the group.
Through all of this, though, Mistry, the person has remained sceptical of borrowing money. His own house was built out of his savings, not a loan. For all his love for Mumbai, which throbs with life and thrives on cosmopolitanism, Mistry has never quite been able to understand vegetarianism. Like all good Parsis, he swears by a well-cooked plate of fish.
Mistry will continue to serve on boards of leading corporates once HDFC merges into HDFC Bank. But he will have more time to spend with his family. The former boxer and bowler may not have to record cricket matches quite so often.
He does intend to keep busy, though. He has always wanted to do more for the elderly. Relieved of the responsibilities of managing a business full time, Mistry could help them walk down the road of their twilight years, Tum pukaar lo playing in the background.