|Richard McHowat, the CEO of HSBC Thailand, quickly dispels any preconceived notions I have of bankers by bounding across his office to meet me and then immediately leading me on a tour of his premises. With his strapping frame, Richard could easily pass for a corner linebacker albeit a bright and astute one.|
media has not been kind to bankers generally portraying them as wizened, key-nieow,
old men sitting behind their desks talking in monosyllables and depositing dirty
money into dirty accounts. Richard breaks this mold all to hell.
Overflowing with energy and enthusiasm, so much so that Tony Robbins could probably take lessons from him, Richard leads me on his tour and it becomes quickly evident that he cares about his staff and their success a great deal. He’s not just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk, as he has spent a great deal of time trying to find out what makes them tick so he can best optimize their performance levels and just generally give them a better work environment. He takes cultural sensitivity seriously.
Richard then takes me to
the front door to show me the two (brass?) lions at the entrance, which were
designed by a Thai artist who made them by first traveling to Hong Kong to take
a clay mold of the two originals (Steven & Stitt) guarding HSBC’s
headquarters on Queen’s Road. Tradition falls heavy on the shoulders of the
braintrust at HSBC.
Mr McHowat then goes on to
tell me how HSBC can provides its customers with a competitive advantage by
providing them with the latest in electronic banking and security through its
For us ignorant laymen
McHowat seems to be somewhat of an enigma, someone who wants his bank to succeed
but not at the expense of either his staff or his customers.
He has that certain something those great politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton have: that ability to make you believe that you are very important and the center of the universe while he is talking to you. This can obviously be very persuasive in people and money management.
What type of business do you tend to attract, or try to attract? “When you have a single branch which most of the foreign banks in Thailand have had up until the recent liberalization you are restricted in the type of businesses you pursue. If you don’t have a distribution network in country, it is more difficult to raise deposits; if you don’t have a branch network, it’s more difficult to capture a broad number of retail customers. So traditionally our business has been in the wholesale market, where we have a broad range of corporate customers, and we have been offering those products and services that best suit the corporate world stretching from the largest multinationals such as Tesco Lotus and BHP to medium size local companies. At our peak we probably had close to 800 corporate relationships.
the retail side, we have always, of course, had a retail branch and the split in
customers is fifty percent foreign and fifty percent Thai. We hope to be able to
offer a standard of personal banking and products and services that is on a par
with any of our international branches.
Why do foreigners in Thailand link banking with you? “We are now positioned in eighty-three countries around the world, so the appeal for non-Thais in choosing HSBC is primarily that we are a brand they recognize. An example of this is would be the mobile phone company CP Orange, which has just opened up shop in the building next to us, and we now have a number of their expatriate engineers doing their banking with us.
as part of a new group strategy we decided a while back that we needed to make
the best of our brand and make it instantly recognizable wherever our customers
are. We have made great strides in this regard over the last three years, so
that now whether you are in Dubai, Vancouver, Sydney or Hong Kong you will see
the HSBC and hexagon brand.
to that, you would have seen a conglomerate of different names. So our brand in
the Middle East was the British Bank of the Middle East (which was opened in
the1940s); in the Far East it was the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation; in
the UK it was the Midland Bank; and in the US, it was Marine Midland Banks Inc.
But now it’s the same everywhere.
now have 275 multinational or joint venture companies banking with us. And part
of the reason the larger foreign companies bank with us is simply because they
have a history of dealing with the HSBC elsewhere. For example, HSBC Plc in the
UK is the house bank for Tesco in Britain, so when that company chose to expand
into Thailand and found us on their doorstep ready to provide them with similar
types of services from a treasury perspective, we were obviously quite a welcome
sight for them. The fact we can hook them up electronically and monitor what
they’ve got here and then send that information back to their head office in
the UK is also a perk for them.”
do Thais like banking with you? “A lot of it is just the personal touch. Many
of our customers like banking with us because we have been here a long time. If
you ask our Thai customers - and we frequently do - why they bank with us, they
will say that we are a Thai bank in farang clothes. And I think that’s quite a
compliment and says something about our history in the country. For those
customers who have international payments to make, and are not inconvenienced by
the fact we only have one branch, I think they are pleased by the special
services we offer here.
What have you done to cater to the burgeoning number of SMEs? “We have 1700 non-borrowing accounts that are SMES. They don’t even use our facilities, so why do they use us? Many have international payments to make and they find it convenient to use a bank like ours that has an international network. Many need trade finance facilities, such as documentary credits, which our bank provides. And many just require a straightforward service, either by phone or a relationship with a bank manager.
have also just started a new unit we call Business Banking, and this was
specifically set up to target a range of 7,000 SMEs in the Bangkok area. This is
particularly related to trade and payments, the two things we are very good at.
And we are finding, our one branch operation is not a limiting factor because
many of these companies are e-conversant so they use our electronic banking
products, through hexagon, and this allows them to make payments and transfers,
pay salaries, open document credit and do almost everything they need to do from
wherever they happen to be. When we do need to exchange paperwork we use various
intermediaries like couriers or the post office.
What is your company doing to gain a competitive advantage? “A while ago, John Bond, the Group Chairman, began a managing for value strategy where the governing objective is to double the return to shareholders over a period of five years or specifically to `Outperform the average total shareholder return of a peer group of financial institutions with a minimum objective of doubling shareholder value over a five year period.’ What this says is we have to be better than the competition.
the governing objective, we have eight strategic imperatives, one which
particularly applies to Thailand is to align our corporate and investment
banking businesses and I think over the last two years we have made great
strides in doing that here. We have established a debt capital markets business,
and we were mandated to raise a bond for Exim, which was named best domestic
bond by FinanceAsia (??). For the IFCT, we also issued the first subordinating
___ Bond (??) These are landmark achievements in a business which we
specifically focused on and put resources in, and it’s highlighted our
Group’s objectives as well.”
do you enjoy your job and banking so much? “I joined the HSBC’s
International Management Program at seventeen and effectively what I’m
committed to is a life of service overseas until I retire. I can move between
any number of countries and be asked to do any number of different jobs. That in
itself has proven, over the last twenty years, to be a very interesting and
motivating type of career. There is never a dull moment really. You can be in
markets, which are booming with businesses doing well and quickly be jettisoned
into a situation where the economy is not doing so well.
“This is my first role as a CEO and I like running my own shop; I like setting strategic direction for my staff. At the end of the day, I like being accountable for the financial goals; I am proud of the progress we have made in our operations in Thailand over the last four years through we’ve been through quite a difficult period. I am particularly proud of the development of our staff. I think if you were to ask any headhunter on the market, they would say `All roads led to HSBC.’ We are an attractive place to work and we receive a lot of unsolicited approaches from very good quality people in the market because I think they see we are doing the right things e.g. investing in businesses, which we feel have the potential to deliver growth and increase value for our shareholders.
do you help your foreign employees adapt to life in Thailand? “Every culture
offers up its challenges and nuances for a traveling ex-pat. The Thai culture is
probably stronger and less corrupted than others because the country wasn’t
colonized, so it probably takes a little bit longer to understand. What I have
found, and what we tend to do with new foreigners starting out here is that we
try to bring them up to speed very quickly in terms of immersing them in Thai
culture because if we don’t they will trip over themselves time and time again
and that’s not the best way to learn. So we do use people like Dr. Henry
Holmes and the programs he puts together and we send members of our Thai staff
along with our ex-pats to these programs. And it gives both of them an
opportunity to find out how each other ticks.”
What are your motivational tools? “What I have learned is that if you are very excited about something or if you are very upset about something, try not to show either. A measured approach is very appreciated by your staff. There are ways of expressing your satisfaction or displeasure without showing strong outward signs of emotion. Newcomers may not know this and it can cost them dearly.
when I first arrived, I thought it was probably enough to set an example and be
a good role model: put in the hours, show full commitment etc. I thought that if
the boss was seen to be working hard, and then the staff would work hard too.
over time, I’ve realized showing a strong personal interest in your people is
just as important. You must show a genuine interest in their well-being and
development even if it’s something as simple as just “Morning, how are you
and how’s the family?” I ask my HR department to let me know when any of our
staff are seriously ill; and I have diarized the birthdays of all my senior
staff as well.
What about rewarding those who work hard? “We have performance related pay based on appraisal systems, which help us make a distinction between those that are performing at the high end and those performing at the low end. This is very important in helping us assess, develop and reward our staff. Remember, we want to attract, retain and motivate the very best people.
about dealing with confrontation? “There’s nothing like counting to ten. If
something hits your desk, and you say what’s happened here, don’t just pick
up the phone and immediately demand to see so and so. Take some time to figure
out the problem first before reacting. Again, you must recognize that in
Thailand excessive displays of emotion will steadily cause you to lose respect
and face in front of your staff. The sooner people recognize that managing
confrontation in that manner is wholly unproductive the better, but it does take
you ever let down your guard? “After spending any length of time with an
organization, especially if you are working within a relatively tight community,
you feel you are always representing that organization, whether you are sitting
at your desk or having dinner at a local restaurant. I am the CEO of HSBS and I
must always be expected to uphold the standards and values people expect from
the CEO of the HSBC. So it’s difficult to drop the persona in town, but if I
am away on holiday, it’s a different matter.
are your keys to success? “You have to enjoy what you do, you have to enjoy
the business that you are in. But if I have learned anything in Thailand, is
that there is always another day, there’s always tomorrow. Looking after your
health, your state of mind, making sure you have the energy and drive to come in
and face the music tomorrow means you have to take care of yourself and that
doesn’t mean working till midnight every night because you won’t do yourself
or your business justice if you do.
about some advice for someone thinking of investing here? “Thailand has a
stable political environment and if you want good quality, dedicated, friendly
staff: welcome to Thailand. And really the country has always been a very
friendly place to invest, it’s been always very easy for foreign firms to come
into Thailand and they have always been made to feel most welcome when
establishing a subsidiary or joint venture.
more information please contact:
HSBC Building, 2nd Floor
968 Rama IV Road, Silom
Bangrak, Bangkok 10500
+66 (0) 2641-4605/11
Fax: +66 (0) 2632-4830
Website: www.hsbcgroup.com; www.hsbc.com