Diversity | PREMIUM CONTENT

Nandita Bakhshi, CEO, Bank of the West and Dream maker

Nov/18/2021 / by Melody Alderman
Nandita Bakhshi

It was early 2020 when we first reached out to Nandita Bakhshi about profiling her. Everything was in motion until suddenly, COVID-19 hit. The profile would have to be put on hold while Nandita focused on what was now the central priority in her life: helping her customers and associates find their way through a pandemic.

Success didn’t fall into Bakhshi’s lap. She earned it from the ground up by starting out as a bank teller. Perhaps that’s why she’s able to bring both humanity and heart to everything she does. Bakhshi explained, “I fell in love with what banking stands for, which is really to help individuals meet their financial needs. I truly believe we are dream-makers. We put people in their homes, we give them student loans, we give them car loans, we help them with their credit, their deposit needs, their retirement.”

Now, nearly three decades after she took that initial entry-level role as a bank teller, she’s not only a dream maker for others. She’s a dream maker for herself as well. After all, only 6% of CEOs in the banking industry are female. Bakhshi is one of them, and she doesn’t take her success for granted. Instead, she uses it as a platform to create a better world.

Nandita Bakhshi at a Pride March
Nandita Bakhshi at a Pride March

“I’m proud to use my role as CEO of a major U.S. bank to champion sustainability, diversity and the financial empowerment of women — interrelated issues that are key to advancing a positive future. Bank of the West is one of the few U.S. banks to restrict financing of activities deemed harmful to the planet. Instead, it uses its financial strength to support growth that protects the planet and contributes to a more equitable society.”

That’s not the only way she pays it forward, though.

“One way that I have advanced the financial empowerment of women … is by consciously placing women in more P&L [profit and loss management] roles, which have a direct and visible influence on the bank’s bottom line,” Bakhshi said. “I believe that getting more women into positions of true leadership requires that these women have access to capital. As in life, access to capital in business gives women the power to make decisions that have a measurable, lasting impact.”

So, what would she say to young girls and women looking to follow in her footsteps?

“My biggest piece of advice and personal motto is to follow the ‘the rule of thirds,’” Bakhshi said. “Throughout my career, I would take new positions that were one-third in my comfort zone, one-third a stretch, and one-third ‘pure white-knuckle terror.’ I encourage young people to find opportunities that will allow them to explore their own rule of thirds.”

The young girl growing up in Calcutta, India, always felt “different.” She only wishes she would’ve been easier on herself.

“As a teenager and young woman, I wish I had known that being different is a strength. I encourage young women to embrace the qualities that make them unique and bring their authentic selves to all that they do.”

remarks Bakhshi

This includes being a leader.

She explained: “I believe that as a leader you should emphasize the heart and the head in equal parts, while maintaining a positive, empathetic presence. This has never been more important or evident than during the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

One way Bakhshi coped with the stresses of the pandemic was to immerse herself in gardening.

“Working from home over the last year, I was able to perfect the art of grafting roses,” she said. “When winter hit, I could no longer work in my garden, and shifted my focus to growing bonsais. This plant and practice has introduced a new level of extreme patience — plants don’t just grow overnight.”

Neither do careers. Bakhshi is proof that with commitment, patience, and a willingness to humbly begin where you must, anything is possible. Just ask the girl from Calcutta who now runs one of the biggest financial institutes in the world. Dreams do come true. Especially for the dream-makers.