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Sunday Chronicle cover story 26 Jun 2020 Karam Hinduja, someo ...

Karam Hinduja, someone to bank on

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | NEIL PATE
Published Jun 28, 2020, 1:57 am IST
Updated Jun 28, 2020, 1:57 am IST
Hinduja scion Karam Hinduja speaks exclusively to Deccan Chronicle about the future of banking, family legacy, climate change, racism
Karam Hinduja
 Karam Hinduja

Be it a soiree in London or a board meeting in Switzerland, all heads turn and conversations stop mid-sentence when Karam Hinduja (29) walks in. The suave and debonair CEO of the Hinduja Bank, Geneva tries to stay away from flashbulbs, but the peeping paparazzi will do anything to ‘capture’ him.

A patron of art, culture and a firm believer in the power of storytelling, Karam grew up in a household where he was encouraged to constantly broaden his horizons, read widely and seek out new experiences.

 

A Scion & Storyteller

Little wonder that the Hinduja scion feels storytelling today must stand for much more than just entertainment – it must set the tone for social discourse.

“Storytelling is how we open people’s minds and create deeper human connection that cuts through the superficial differences of people. It has the power to reach the core of what makes each of us human — the love, fear and hope that we all experience regardless of where we come from. Through my work with Hinduja Bank, I want to tell a new story about the meaning of wealth for the next generation – that true value lies not just in financial returns, but in protecting people and our planet,” says Karam, sitting in front of an iconic M.F. Husain painting.

 

Not many know that in a friendship spanning several decades, M.F. Husain and Karam’s 84-year-old grandfather Srichand Hinduja (aka SP) collaborated to bring out some of Husain’s best works that the art world has ever seen — a series of paintings capturing the essence of various religions.

They have adorned the walls of the family’s Swiss bank since 1994. “You can see the originals (paintings) when you come here,” he says.

Simple Living, High Thinking

The Hindujas are a permanent feature in the global list of rich families. Neighbours to the Queen, they are a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.

 

Their annual Diwali party at Alexandra Palace has become part of London’s social calendar. Not to forget the birthday bash at Harrods or the big fat wedding in Mumbai. But despite all the money and luxuries, the Hindujas are all teetotallers and humility personified.

Even today, if one were to visit the family’s Carlton Terrace mansion in London, SP and his daughter Vinoo will greet you with a warm smile and a firm handshake. And as you crane your neck to see the royal palace, a plate of roasted papad, pakoras, Sindhi kadhi-chawal and masala chai is served before you.

 

“My grandfather’s belief that our dharma is to advance the cause of humankind is deeply ingrained in me. His philosophy of ‘I work so that I can give’ has coloured my own approach to the bank. He has always placed his trust in the next generation to drive this vision forward and solve future challenges – I am trying to do the same,” he says. 

All in a Day’s Work

But how does one carry forward the family legacy, especially in these Covid-19 times, when the economy is in doldrums and there is upheaval in the banking sector?

 

“We are living through the most challenging cocktail of crises. My heart goes out to all those who are suffering financially or have lost loved ones,” he says, adding, “When the time for rebuilding comes, we must create a better, more caring world – the private sector must place the concerns of people at their heart.”

Needless to say, it is a busy period for all banks as they implement new strategies to help clients navigate through the Covid-19 crisis. The Hinduja Bank is the first Indian-owned Swiss bank which has acted as a bridge between East and West, active across Europe, the Middle East and India.

 

Karam believes that thinking positively and creatively is what drives the world forward. He wants to redefine what it means to be a private bank.

“That means looking towards the next generation of investors, who understand that wealth is more than merely financial returns – that true value is rooted in adherence to social and environmental principles that enhance the state of people and planet. It also means partnering with our clients as fellow creative entrepreneurs,” he says.

Striving for a better world

The Hindujas have an incredible ability to forge friendships with people from all walks of life, right from the Shah of Iran to Her Majesty, from prime ministers to pop stars, from hospital doctors to needy patients.

 

“In my view, success can only be defined collectively and by the impact we have on other people and the world,” says Karam. A forward-thinking Libran, he meditates and gyms regularly to keep fit.

However, he is rattled by the recent racist attacks. “We have to create harmonious societies, where diversity is celebrated and the rights of all minorities are respected. It is not just a moral imperative – it’s an economic necessity. For India, a country whose rich diversity is almost unparalleled, tackling social injustices – racism, casteism, sexism, homophobia – will unlock a bright future. It’s up to the younger generations to lead the way,” Karam says.

 

Not someone who minces words, he adds, “We’ve seen with the recent protests in the US and Europe, combating prejudice is a constant battle – even for the most developed nations. India’s history is bittersweet – we have stories of harmony in diversity as well as deep-rooted injustice. But I have faith in this generation that is driving the future of India to create an example for other nations by drawing on the multi-cultural understanding that has defined our ancient history and values, rather than the patterns of the recent past.”

 

According to him, businesses and entrepreneurs are in a prime position to spur technological innovation and protect the environment.

“We want to help environmentally conscious investors direct their resources to the most innovative, impactful projects. Managing wealth is no longer simply a question of financial returns – it’s about creating true value for the world,” he says.  

Perhaps it is this now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t attitude of Karam, which makes him a sight for jaded eyes. He has among the most coveted mentors in the business world (grandfather SP and mother Shanu Hinduja) and a fleet of admirers, both women and men.

 

His concerns towards climate change and CSR are genuine.

The other plus point – Karam is open to all questions. So I ask him about his idea of an ideal date.

The only minus point – He uses his cute smile to ignore the question!

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