As with kings of old, so with current-day entrepreneurs. Many real-life stories of big businessmen follow a couple of potent templates. One is, dazzling success from humble origins. The other is vertiginous rise and fall. That is the course taken by the life story of Rana Kapoor, Yes Bank’s cunning and ambitious co-founder, who, it appears, would not say ‘No’ to the dodgiest loan applicant, which ultimately led to calamitous results. The well-named Yes Man by Pavan C. Lall illuminates the dramatic arc of the story informatively and entertainingly.
Pavan C. Lall is a senior business journalist who has “written for Fortune India, Business Standard, and The Telegraph, among others”. Lall’s first book was a solidly reported, tightly written account of the swift rise and dizzying downfall (see the pattern?) of jeweller Nirav Modi, which took us into Modi’s workplaces, home, and heart. The book came out amid public outrage at rising NPAs with Indian banks; and the impunity of, and apparent invincibility of, the country’s white-collar criminals. (As Lall reminds us, bigger culprits than Modi are still free).
Yes Man, Lall’s second book, displays not just his strengths as a veteran journalist, but also shows his growth as a writer with a conversational voice and emphatically moral outlook; a rarity in Indian business journalism, which is mostly obsessed with growth, growth, and growth at any cost. This outlook is shared by most Indian businessmen — a mindset, possibly, of ancient Indian greediness with modern-day grab-and-run mentality unleashed after Liberalisation.
Yes Man also shows Lall’s interest in, and insight into, business as a stage for human virtues and vices. So, we are given an x-ray reading of Rana Kapoor’s mindset of arrogance, ruthless ambition, a disregard for business ethics and corporate laws, and his uncontrolled lust to, apparently, make Yes Bank grow quickly so its stock price, and therefore Kapoor’s own holdings of Yes Bank shares, would soar and make him even wealthier, according to the author.
Along the way, we are also given a tour of shady practices in the banking sector, as well as intrigue and downright treachery in corporate boardrooms. The intention is to provide a biopsy of the usually opaque banking and finance sector, as also of human nature swayed by the prospects of fast, illegitimate gain. Here, Kapoor is not singled out; the lax regulatory framework which enabled him is also laid bare. The Reserve Bank of India is depicted as being “asleep at the wheel”.
The result of Yes Bank’s collapse is shown in a moving fashion: “One manager, in tears, was apologizing profusely to a senior customer in his seventies who said he needed more funds to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment.”
Yes Man ultimately critiques the culture and the system that nourished Rana Kapoor’s vices and ultimately brought suffering to common people who had trusted his bank with their savings. The book is a standout example of good business journalism — solid balance sheet analysis; a suspenseful, dramatic story arc (perfectly suited for mainstream film); and a plea in favour of creating a business culture that places the common good on the pedestal with private profit.
Book: Yes Man: The Untold Story of Rana Kapoor
Author: Pavan C. Lall
Price: Rs 499