Citibank – The Leadership Principle

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For established, multinational companies like Citibank, success is something that is expected to come as a matter of course. Founded almost 200 years ago in New York and with a presence in Malaysia stretching all the way back to 1959, Citibank has cemented its global reputation by consistently delivering world-class products and services.

Sanjeev Nanavati, the Chief Executive Officer of Citibank Malaysia Berhad, sees his company’s premier position in the international banking and finance industry as a natural, normal state of affairs. “At Citibank, we think of it as ‘business as usual’ to be in a hyper-competitive environment, to innovate and launch new products and to be in a leadership position. These accomplishments are not milestones, they are the way we do business. I expect to lead the market. I expect we will innovate across all our products and services. We are always pushing ourselves – that is ordinary for us,” says the Dehli-born executive who has been with Citibank since 2001.

This relentless drive to remain at the forefront of the international banking sector has enabled Citibank to thrive all over the world. In Malaysia, Citibank has carved out a “niche” for itself as a foreign bank over the past 52 years, and now dominates in numerous distinct business areas including credit cards, wealth management, multinational companies and foreign exchange, transaction banking and custody business.

“We have established businesses which produce good revenues. We are constantly tweaking and improving the products that we have,” continues Nanavati, “In general, we are doing all that we want to do, we deal with the customers we want to deal with and have the products we want to have. We are looking to grow in selective areas. There are a lot of competitive challenges, but we come to the table with a lot of resources and experience and a solid base of business.”

One may wonder what a CEO at the helm of a successful, soaring multinational company seemingly on auto-pilot actually does. A lot, as it turns out. Nanavati oversees a staff of more than 4000 people at 11 branches in Malaysia and is responsible for Citibank’s retail banking, credit cards, corporate banking, investment banking, global transaction services, equities, fixed income and treasury activities here.

“We have a strong market position that needs to be defended and grown. We have to find new niches to dominate – that is the main aspect of being CEO,” he reflects. Working in leadership roles in Citibank in Malaysia for the past six years (a remarkably long period of time for an overseas posting in the industry), Nanavati has been instrumental in solidifying and strengthening the company’s position.

Originally from India, Nanavati went to study finance and accounting in the USA, earning an MBA from Syracuse University in New York. He was drawn to international banking as “it is an industry which is intrinsically international.”

He took a job with a major American bank which dispatched him to Hong Kong, giving him the opportunity to criss-cross Asia in his business travels and to get the “international exposure” he was craving.

He went on to work in other international banks, building a name for himself in the financial services sector, before joining Citibank in 2001.


Looking back on his career, Nanavati suggests that “the thing that attracted me to banking is fundamentally the range of what you do. There is a variety in the customers and industries which makes it really interesting. As a banker, you are dealing with a vast degree of variety (some people may call it “complexity”): varied people, issues, problems and solutions. There is a constant change.”

A career expat, Nanavati considers himself a citizen of the world, claiming that he “doesn’t know where home is anymore.” In 2005, he was assigned by Citibank to a position in Malaysia and has since settled here, both professionally and personally. A family man with two young children, Nanavati finds living in Malaysia “easy” and is “very positive” about the country.

“The quality of life here is as high as you can get anywhere in the world,” he enthuses, “You would be hard pressed to find the combination of things you can find here anywhere in the world. Kuala Lumpur offers a great mix of things and provides you with the opportunity to have a good family life.”

From a professional perspective, Nanavati thinks Malaysia is an attractive and conducive place to do business thanks to its sound infrastructure, plus the fact that English is widely spoken here, meaning that “one can deal with issues and challenges without being impeded by language issues.” As a passionate proponent of international commerce and industry here in Malaysia, he serves as President of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and also as a Council member of the Association of Banks in Malaysia.

In his role as CEO of Citibank, Nanavati has racked up a long list of corporate achievements, but he is most proud of the local initiatives and projects that he has spearheaded, most notably the opening of a childcare facility for employees on premises at Citibank headquarters in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

They say a company is only as good as its people and, from top to bottom, Citibank is unquestionably a world-class organization. As CEO of Citibank Malaysia, Sanjeev Nanavati has the responsibility of ensuring that the high standards of his company’s products and services are continuously met. But this, for this calm and confident CEO, is simply “business as usual”.

This article was written by William Citrin for The Expat magazine and has been edited for Expat Go.
Source: The Expat November 2011
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