It would be cliché to say her philosophy springs from the East, but Renu Sud Karnad does offer a piece of advice to those coping with the current American mortgage crisis: accept the chaos. It is, after all, what she's done from the start.

"When I joined [the Housing Development Finance Corp.], the company was at a nascent stage and the concept of retail housing finance in India was raw," she says. "There were challenges: We were operating in an environment where long-term resources were hard to come by, and we were in the business of mortgage lending but there were no foreclosure norms. We had to educate the borrower, but we had to first understand the system ourselves."

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