I first met R. Ravimohan in Mahabaleshwar, the largest hill station in Maharashtra, in December 1996. I was part of a group of journalists that went to the resort to attend the Indian Banks’ Association’s annual meeting, hosted by United Western Bank Ltd (later taken over by IDBI Bank). After filing reports on three successive sessions, on my way to the hotel late in the evening, I spotted a shadow flitting through the trees along the road. As my car stopped, Ravimohan emerged from the jungle and walked up to me, introduced himself and said he would have hated to miss the rare opportunity of looking at the full moon on a December evening at a hill station (1,372m above sea level), surrounded by trees and the sound of crickets.
Fostering debate: R. Ravimohan.
He was staying at some other hotel but came with me to mine, quickly organized a couple of cars to ferry a large group of journalists to a bar and chatted with us on banking and the economy until late in the night, holding a glass of Coke. Needless to say, he picked up the tab as well.
That was quintessential Ravimohan, then boss of the rating agency Crisil Ltd. Always ready to encourage young professionals and discuss serious issues with a smile on his face. He was the youngest team member in the project finance department at the erstwhile financial institution ICICI Ltd that used to appraise Reliance Industries Ltd’s projects.
N. Vaghul, then chairman of ICICI, put him on the fast track for promotions and gave him more and more responsibilities. He was put in charge of the OTC (Over the Counter) Exchange of India, but when that did not take off, he was sent to head Crisil in 1995 after its managing director Pradip Shah left. The Vaghul protégé was dumbstuck by the independence and working style of youngsters in Crisil and quickly learnt from his colleagues about how to run a rating agency. At that time, the average age of Crisil employees was 26 and on many occasions Ravimohan had said it would have been even lower but for him and one Mr Rao, a senior general manager.
He encouraged the employees to debate every issue and changed the entire incentive structure by adopting what he called a “cafeteria approach”. Within an overall package, he offered his colleagues the flexibility to choose different components and design their salary. He also removed chairs from his office and brought in sofas for a sense of informality. He offered cars to even mid-level executives and encouraged them to buy assets. Shah created Crisil but Ravimohan made what it is today by expanding its activities, attracting talent and empowering people.
He introduced an exchange programme with global rating agency Standard and Poor’s and sent many Crisil employees to learn global practices. He even sent a few of his colleagues to the advanced management programme at Harvard University. A qualified chemical engineer, Ravimohan himself was a Harvard Business School alumnus.
Young at heart, he had a fascination for gadgets—from mobile phones to music, office aids and automation. Once he invited Pradeep Kar, founder and chairman of the Microland group, to talk on technology to Crisilites.
He also introduced offsites at Crisil to brainstorm over issues, a novel concept in the 1990s. And he developed a unique tool of internal communication—“Ravi’s Rantings”. After meeting important people from companies, banks and the government, he would write down what he had learnt from his meetings and circulate the notes among his colleagues without identifying the people he had met.
Ravimohan joined the Reliance Industries’ board in August as an executive director valued for his extensive expertise in the area of risk assessment and management. A Reuters report on Tuesday said he was involved in the company’s bid for the petrochemicals maker LyondellBasell Industries.
Most of us know Ravimohan for his role at Crisil and later at Standard and Poor’s as the South Asia managing director and region head.
Ravimohan did not believe in the boss being a sacred cow. He always encouraged boss bashing and Crisil executives could have an open house whenever they wanted and criticize him.
On Monday evening, while taking his evening walk on Marine Drive, he suffered a cardiac arrest and died. Ravimohan was 52. Many Crisilites called me around midnight Monday, and on Tuesday morning to say their boss was dead.