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For this avid golfer, banking is a fairway

Monday, 24 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Agency: dna

Many bankers love golf but here is a golfer who turned a banker. Golf flows in Arvind Sethi's blood -- he may well have been a pro. He was born to a family that produced golf greats like Billoo Sethi, India's most decorated golfer who played in the 60s and 70s and won the Indian Open as an amateur in 1965 at the Royal, Calcutta.

Since Arvind Sethi took charge of the Tata Group's mutual fund business in December 2012, the business environment has been tumultuous and his task an uphill one, for he has had to balance a choppy market and also plan a new strategy at the firm.

But for this reluctant banker, both his career and golf peaked when he was working with ANZ Grindlays in the 90s. As ANZ and Grindlays split, Sethi moved to Australia, the headquarters of ANZ. A bit of good golf – as Sethi plays to 7 – and some luck got him the membership with the Royal Melbourne. It's the course where the President's Cup has been played and attracted greats like Tiger Woods. Sethi has been playing golf since he was a six year old, thanks to his dad and cousin and golf coach Vikram Sethi, and when lucky with his uncle Billoo (whose score of around 12 under par for 4 rounds was broken till 25 years by Ali Sher at the DGC). With his roots in Kashmir, Sethi's game would echo some spectacular golf moments in the valley. He grew up playing on DGC and Gulmarg Golf Course. Equipment those days was modest, perhaps a few wooden woods and some chipped balls. But training on these was good enough to get Sethi the badge of an Oxford Blue, one that is described as a symbol that one has played in the centenary golf match between Oxford and Cambridge.

Sethi was an independent director on the Tata MF board before being appointed the CEO. "I am a people's person and my work at the MF is about managing people well. To succeed any organisation, that's the only way to ensure you get the best out of people," he says. The MF business remains volatile as do Indian markets. Interest from foreign investors has been lukewarm over a long period as well.

Sethi realises that Tata MF needs to get bigger and better to capitalise on its famous brand, something it has failed to do in the past. Fresh approach to marketing and a few new funds should then put the firm on track again? Sethi shares the new plans for the firm.

"We have among the best performing funds in the industry and our challenge and plan is to reconnect with the distributors in the market, to convey that message and rebuild a relationship, which enables them to recommend our funds confidently to investors."

Sethi's seen both sides of the coin- working for a multinational and working for himself as he spent a decade running his own investments. Which one does he prefer? Sethi says, "I enjoyed both phases of my career, heading the Treasury of banks like HSBC and ANZ Grindlays as well as working for myself. With hindsight, the common feature about both careers was the tremendous freedom which those roles gave me. In a treasury you could lose lakhs and lakhs on a trade, but not approve a few thousand in business related expenses."

Sethi took those bitter-sweet gains and losses in his stride, especially since financial opportunities let him play plenty of golf, making the return on investment for this reluctant banker rather good.

Shaili Chopra is an award-winning business journalist and founder of www.golfingindian.com

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