The Banker in a Silk Tie - My Citi Orientation story
On May 18th, 1997, a 22-year-old avatar of mine hailed a taxi at the Mumbai Airport and the taxi driver asked me to repeat the destination as I said ‘Taj President Hotel, Cuffe Parade’. It was a very exciting day.
At the hotel desk, the receptionist told me that my 14-day stay was already paid for in full, with room service. After checking in, I hung out with few mates who had arrived a couple of hours earlier. I enquired about our plans for the evening, whether we should go to another (read: more affordable) place for dinner. One of them gently informed me that we could order any dish from the hotel menu. I called the reception and verified this information before placing my order. Over dinner, we shared stories about our first ever flight; for most of us, it was that day.
The next two weeks of the management associate (MA) orientation program were packed with activity-based learning, including a 2-day trip to Lonavala. The lunch break interactions with the department heads were extremely lively. Whenever we addressed them as ‘sir’, they would remind us that everyone referred to each other by their first names here. During the course of the program, I realized that there was a distinct similarity among the attires of all the presenters; their shirts were mostly white or sky-blue with prominent ‘A’ signature on the pocket and elbow.
At the end of the MA orientation program, we were assigned departments and work locations. We were also asked to get our passport ready, as in six months there would be an advanced product orientation program along with global MAs. I was assigned Mumbai. My apartment, which I shared with two other MAs, was a luxurious 3 BHK sea-facing with help quarters, very close to Amitabh Bachchan’s house. This bachelor pad was referred to as a ‘chummery’; it was fully furnished with all the amenities one could need.
Right after settling in, we went to the posh Lokhandwala Market in Andheri to shop for office wear. I walked into a store and asked for a formal white shirt with an ’A’ logo. The assistant showed me a ridiculously priced ‘Arrow’ shirt. Despite my shock, I bought a couple of shirts since it seemed to be the dress code.
I reported for work at my Nariman Point office wearing my spiffy white Arrow shirt. I was feeling very pleased with myself as the logo matched the logos on the shirts of the rest of the Citibankers. Later that day, I was told by a senior colleague that my tie did not match my shirt.
The next day, I went through my wardrobe to find a tie that looked very similar to his. I was confident that my attire could not be faulted that day. I met with the same colleague, who, once again, told me that my tie did not match my shirt. I politely told him I had changed it. He flipped his tie at me and said, “We Citibankers can afford silk ties.” I noticed the label on his tie. It was from the Satya Paul Silk Collection. He smiled and told me I could buy affordable ones from Van Heusen. To my delight, he added that there would be a sale the next month and that I would find a lot of Citibankers there. As a passing remark, he mentioned that next week he would be not available, as he will be traveling abroad as an instructor for an advanced product orientation program in Turkey.
It has been a long time since I left Citibank and business attire migrated to casual clothing. After hearing about its retail bank’s exit from the Indian market, I had a strong urge to reopen my collection of silk ties, just to remind myself that I had the privilege of receiving a grand orientation that I still think about fondly.
1995-2005 were golden years for the Indian banking industry (just to remind ourselves that in 1995, HDFC opened its first branch). Indian consumers and corporate houses benefited from the enhanced customer service. New products were launched from the branches managed by young and bright professionals. Citibank India, being the trailblazer of product innovation, needed to attract the finest talent, and by default, became an executive training platform across financial services.
Next year will be the silver jubilee of our MA batch, we plan to meet together at the same hotel and relive the orientation moments. As a founder of CitiMA97 group in WhatsApp, LinkedIn and Facebook, I just want to say ‘Thank you Citibank for being part of our life’.
Disclaimer: The graphical recreation of the CITIBANK logo is an expression of respect to the organization that nurtures fine professionals. This graphic can’t be used for any commercial purpose or to be used for any other causes. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the policy or position of RRD.