They are as different as birds and bats.
Peek at their plates at any family function and you’ll know. She helps herself to rice, fish curry and gajar ka halwa; he prefers bread, boiled vegetables, grilled fish and cheesecake.
Roopa Kudva, managing director and chief executive officer of India’s biggest rating agency, Crisil Ltd, is the antithesis of Vivek Kudva, managing director, India and CEEMEA, of Franklin Templeton Asset Management (India) Pvt Ltd. Yet, they have enjoyed each other’s company for 27 years.
Their romance, which blossomed at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), was not a Mills & Boon one. Roopa Phene, one of the 18 girls among 200-odd in the 1986 batch at IIM-A, found Vivek, a distant relation of K.V. Kamath, “calm, composed, kind, and always supportive—willing to teach all”.
Unlike Roopa, a 21-year-old graduate from Guwahati’s Cotton College, 25-year-old Vivek was worldly wise—an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) graduate with a three-year stint at Schlumberger, an oilfield services company in Australia. He found Roopa “simple and determined”.
Roopa liked the “always smiling” Vivek but it bothered her that he was four years her senior—too old to be her husband. Nevertheless, they decided they would get married once out of IIM-A. In fact, her brother and two cousins landed up at the campus and, in front of others, addressed a hugely embarrassed Vivek as “jijaji”, even touching his feet before he knew what was happening (this brother got into IIM-A four years later and fell in love with a batchmate whom he eventually married. Roopa’s parents now call IIM the Indian Institute of Matrimony!).
The most romantic aspect of their relationship is that Roopa—aggressive and impatient—has followed her husband around rather than staying put for her career. She quit her first job at the erstwhile Industrial Development Bank of India and joined Crisil to be in Bangalore, where Vivek was transferred when he was working for The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Ltd. She took transfers to Delhi and Mumbai to be with Vivek. After heading HSBC’s consumer division in Mumbai, Vivek joined National Bank of Oman in Muscat in 2004. Roopa would catch a flight at least one Thursday a month to be with him for the weekend (Friday is a holiday in Muscat). Once the flight landed, she would message Vivek, and by the time she got out of the airport, in 18 minutes flat, Vivek would have driven to the arrival gate to pick her up. When she was on a secondment with Standard & Poor’s (S&P) in Paris, Vivek used to fly down every fortnight.
"A DEMOCRACY OF TWO: Roopa: In the end, Vivek’s decision prevails. Vivek: No, hers does."
In 2006, when Vivek joined Franklin Templeton, it had Rs.20,000 crore assets under management in India. Today, that figure is Rs.43,000 crore. Vivek now oversees assets worth $28 billion (around Rs.1.5 trillion) across India, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Greece and other countries. Besides heading Crisil, Roopa is also the region head, South Asia, at S&P’s, the majority owner of the rater. Since Roopa took over as CEO, Crisil’s revenue and profits have grown an average 30% every year and the stock price has nearly trebled.
"WIDE ANGLE, SHARP FOCUS: Roopa takes care of the personal aspects. For instance, she takes care of the health and education of the two daughters of their maid, who lives with them. Vivek looks after the commercial aspects, such as paying salaries to the household help, bills, etc. He takes the investment decisions. Roopa decides on breakfast and dinner but Vivek will have to call the plumber if the geyser is not working. Roopa is a micromanager; Vivek delegates—both at office and home. "
Their approach to work is radically different. Vivek is soft-spoken; he speaks to everybody with a smile. Roopa, many in Crisil say, runs a terror regime. Her first reaction to any note that comes to her is typically not approved till the fourth or fifth draft. Her passion for perfection verges on obsession. Vivek, in contrast, seems a bindaas guy who might alter a draft himself but will always make his colleague feel important. Vivek instils a sense of ownership, Roopa takes on ownership herself.
"CROSS-CURRENTS: Not many—most of Vivek’s buddies are Roopa’s friends and vice versa. "
At home, Vivek occasionally urges Roopa to switch off. He balances work with life—golf is a must every Saturday and once a year, he takes an overseas golfing trip with buddies; he plays competitive bridge and has been running half marathons for six years. When at home (he travels at least 100 days a year), he loves to play Sudoku, the evil ones. Roopa prefers to read. Both catch films (always night shows), love eating out and travelling.
"DO NOT OPEN: They fight on where to eat but ultimately end up trying out every place. Ditto about films—they see all the films that get good reviews. Incidentally, Vivek hated sushi till Roopa convinced him to try it; now he enjoys it."
Vivek earns more than Roopa but she has a higher public profile. “Franklin Templeton is a private company. Hers is a listed firm. She needs to be in the public glare,” Vivek says with his disarming smile. They both give each other enough space, don’t talk shop at home and can spend hours together without talking, just looking at each other and the Arabian Sea from their home on the Worli seafront.