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Golf keeps this MF honcho on course in choppy markets

Monday, 13 January 2014 - 10:20am IST Updated: Monday, 13 January 2014 - 5:34pm IST | Agency: DNA

An early morning, a tough course or even some rain doesn’t bother Vivek Kudva of Franklin Templeton, who heads the mutual fund business in this rather undulating market environment.
For someone who started playing golf at just 13, Kudva has learnt to foster this passion, slowly but steadily. His picked up golf when his dad was with ITC posted in Saharanpur.

“The town had a large army depot. And we lived in a gated community there. The Army had a 9-hole golf course and I made friends with people there and started practising the game. In a short while I became good.” So good that he won a tournament before heading out for further studies at boarding school Rishi Valley, off Hyderabad, where tennis became central to his life.

From school it was IIT Delhi where he captained the team for tennis, and then later to kickstart his career he was introduced to the world of banking with HSBC. This also meant his return to golf, for business was now on course.

“I travelled to Kolkata, then Delhi in my roles with the bank. I was pretty happy with my life and positioning.” But just as he was getting comfortable, opportunity knocked.

And so Kudva was in for a career changing moment. Well settled in his consumer banking role in Delhi, he was plucked out to manage the credit cards business in Mumbai. “It was a moment of exuberance for me. The division wasn’t doing well. And I was there to turn it around. It changed my profile as I transformed the business. My boss showed faith in me.”

At the head of Franklin Templeton in India, Kudva is gearing up for a volatile Indian economy even though they expect some of it will stabilise.

“A gradual recovery during 2014-15 is expected on the back of improved agriculture growth and even exports. But the major headwinds to watch remain the government steps to control fiscal deficit, which will mean a slash in expenditure.” Such cuts combined with the sluggishness in the investment cycle can keep managers on the edge. “That’s the big question. Big industry has been cautious. Manufacturing needs a big push. We have not given the right incentive or created the right environment,” he worries.

The transition from banking to MF wasn’t too hard, says Kudva, who have over time become a good manager of people. “I was impressed with the culture and business model. For me, it was key to understand the business and manage the people who will deliver the goods. I am the enabler for my colleagues.” This talent has proved to be useful as he now holds a regional role.

The MF industry has evolved a lot in the last few years. “Since I got into MF, the regulation changes have been a lot and that’s kept me and the system on toes. Whether it was the abolition of entry loads in 2009 and operational guideline changes since then. We also went through the financial crisis, with retail investors moving out.”

While Asia remains an active market, it is beginning to face challenges of growth, returns and investor appetite. He admits any growth here will tend to beat western GDP figures but innovation and careful investing will be central to every new strategy. Does a bad environment stop him from playing golf? Not at all. He used the game to refocus. And to overcome frustrations. “A lot of what you do in business is overcoming challenges and then succeeding. When you fail, then pick the pieces up and go back and again try an attempt at winning.”

For most tee offs, Kudva would choose investment banker K Balakrishnan, DCB CEO Murali Natarajan as part of his four ball. But when he travels overseas, Kudva is pleasantly surprised to have his global boss who loves his round of 18 holes. “Since we don’t have many at Franklin playing golf, I get the opportunity to play with our global boss, who is a regular at the AT&T tournament at Pebble Beach. We play a competitive game but fun and enjoyment are integral to it.”

For someone who aspires to play at St Andrews Links and Pebble Beach someday, Kudva has an interesting bucket list. With lower handicap, global destinations for golf he would add inspiring Franklin’s 1,500 strong workforce and 7 billion in assets in India as key resolutions for the New Year.

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

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