Munish Varma, MBA '97:
Lending India a helping hand
Munish Varma had been Deutsche Bank’s Head of
Global Markets India for exactly one week when a bomb,
of sorts, dropped across the Atlantic. On September
15th, 2008, Lehman Brothers announced they were filing for bankruptcy, and what followed
was the economic downturn that sent global markets plummeting and financial managers like
Varma back to the chalkboard to draw up a Plan B. “All of a sudden, we were working against a
backdrop of a world teetering into recession,” Varma says.
In the six months that followed, the expansion plans Varma had in the works were put on the backburner. Instead, he and his staff “combed through the firm’s books with a fine-tooth comb,” finding ways to manage risk. When most of the dust had cleared, Deutsche Bank was one of the relative winners in the crisis. Wisely, the bank had held few of the toxic assets that crippled banks like Merrill Lynch, and Citibank. Indian banks, protected by national controls that prohibit them taking on risky assets, kept lending money and remained relatively unscathed as well. Even during a tumultuous 2008 fiscal year, the country’s economy grew by a healthy 6.7 percent.
Born and raised in New Delhi, Varma says the financial landscape in India has changed dramatically
since he first left the country more than fifteen years ago. “As a nation,” Varma says,
“India feels more confident than ever.” He cites Tata Motors’ purchase of Jaguar and Tata Steels’
takeover of English steel giant Corus as evidence of the new attitude and buying power held
by the country’s corporate sector. In terms of domestic consumption, the country has an ideal
demographic: a huge number of people under the age of 35, many of which comprise a growing
middle class. There’s a new spirit of national pride in the air too, he says, evidenced by people’s
increased recent attention to the country’s national sports teams.
In the next five to 10 years, Varma expects India’s high-flying growth rate to continue. He anticipates a great need for further investment in infrastructure — power, roads, transportation — and is excited by the spirit of innovation that has made India a new force to be reckoned with on the international stage. “It’s a delight to work in a country that’s growing so much,” he says.