Open door is best the policy
Sundeep Bhandari is definitely adept at multi-tasking. He carries three distinct titles as managing director, regional head of global markets for North East Asia, and co-head of regional wholesale banking for Standard Chartered Bank, with responsibilities covering governance, talent development, customer service, balance sheet management and trading.
Before joining the bank in 2000, he was the Singapore-based director for credit risk and debt restructuring at Barclays Capital, overseeing South-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent. After growing up in Northern Ireland, Bhandari gained a degree in economics and physics from the University of Ulster and an MBA in international marketing at London’s City University Business School.
Why did you focus your talents on the banking sector?
It really happened by chance because I had never intended to work for a bank. But jobs were very scarce in Northern Ireland, even during the “Big Bang” of 1987, so I moved to London when I was 20-odd years old and took the first offer that came along, which was in branch banking as a cashier.
Since then, I have worked across the UK, in Italy, France and Germany, and for the last 15 years, in Asia. It has been quite an adventure, continually growing and learning, and helping me develop into a real international manager. Looking back, it still surprises me how things worked out, but I realised early on that building a career is about always looking for ways to improve yourself.
Which parts of the business give you most satisfaction?
The most important aspect, which I have to get right, is to motivate and develop the people who work for me. That then makes it possible to deliver outstanding service solutions for our clients. My philosophy is very simple: I try to look after my staff almost like a parent. I always want what is best for them, see them grow professionally, and be happy and successful in their jobs. If I can achieve this, they will be motivated and engaged, which will translate into success for me as well.
What do you regard as your strengths as a leader?
I believe it is having an open style of communication, being transparent, fair and impartial. People have to feel they can trust you, so I have an open-door policy and try to ignore hierarchy. It is better if everyone feels confident and comfortable talking to you. As a manager and leader, you also have to admit mistakes, learn from them, and move on, without blaming individuals.
For me, good leadership is a matter of “walking the talk” and giving an example. The real test is that people know they can rely on you and believe you will do what you say.
What kind of training have you found most beneficial?
I have had lots of training in technical skills, but I think the most beneficial is what I’ve been taught about soft skills. It has helped me to understand the importance of engaging staff, getting feedback, setting unambiguous objectives, and explaining things clearly to eliminate any ambiguity. Being an effective manager and leader is ultimately about knowing how to engage people and motivate them, which comes down to soft skills not technical expertise.
A big part of this is that managers must be able to give honest, open and constructive feedback, especially in appraisals. For example, if a line manager doesn’t think someone is ready for promotion, it is essential to explain why and let the employee know what still needs to be done.
Sometimes, this can make for a very difficult conversation, but our human resources department gives us coaching to help manage the likely concerns and challenges. If you get that bit right, everything else becomes easier. This kind of training teaches you about being patient, being willing to listen, and about trying to improve every single day.
How have your years in Asia shaped your outlook?
In this part of the world, you learn to appreciate the richness of diversity, dealing with so many different cultures. For example in Standard Chartered alone, we have 125 nationalities. This has helped me to understand that you should be ready to look at important issues through different lenses and to expect contrasting answers or views from different countries. That means you have to approach everything with an open mind and always be prepared to consider alternative perspectives.
How do you handle the pressures that come with your role?
I do experience stress, but when that happens, I always remember my wife’s advice - take five. It is very clichéd, but when you are under pressure, it always helps to go for a walk, get some fresh air, or even just count to 10 to restore a sense of calm. At the end of the day, you need to keep the right balance. I’m lucky because I’ve got a fantastic wife, who is also my best friend, She recently insisted I should start doing yoga and though it’s quite tough for me to do all the stretches, I like the meditation and do feel more relaxed.
In the business world, stress is something we can’t avoid it, but we can learn to manage it better. The aim should be not to let it adversely affect our daily work life or our personal life.
Honesty is key
- Bhandari regularly lunches with junior colleagues to discuss the bank, its strategies and issues of general concern
- He says honesty and sincerity are the keys to good communication
- Important to explain errors to employees who have made a mistake without destroying their confidence