Bond leaves HSBC in rude health

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The Independent Online

Sir John Bond will be remembered at HSBC as the penny-pinching chairman who oversaw a $46bn (£27bn) spending spree that transformed his company into the world's third-biggest bank.

He will be a tough act for Stephen Green, HSBC's chief executive and Sir John's successor, to follow.

Apprenticed to Sir William Purves, the prudent Scot who led HSBC from its Hong Kong roots, Sir John further cultivated a frugal image at his bank. He travelled to work on the Tube, flew economy class on short-haul journeys and famously told employees to turn off the lights when they left the office to save money for shareholders.

His focus on screwing down costs helped grow earnings at HSBC from $9.7bn in 2000 to $17.6bn last year, but did not always sit easily with those below him.

Sir John's response to a slowdown in consumer borrowing in the UK - the slashing of thousands of jobs - sparked a one-day strike in May by about 1,400 HSBC workers, the first industrial action at a British bank in eight years,

While keeping one eye fixed steadily on costs, he let the other roam for the string of chunky acquisitions that shook up the bank's cautious approach to doing business. His biggest and boldest buy came in 2002 with the $15.5bn acquisition of Household International, which lends to Americans who struggle to get credit elsewhere.

He built HSBC as an investment bank, and looked towards emerging markets - Brazil, Mexico, India and China - at a time when they were less fashionable. Sir John, who was knighted in 1999 and is a director of Vodafone and Ford Motor, rarely gave interviews.

His daughter, Annabelle, 36, commanded the headlines for the Bond family after recently climbing all of the highest peaks on the world's continents more quickly than any other woman.

For all his success, Sir John remained aware of its fragility. He once reflected: "There is an old Chinese saying: today, you are a cockerel, tomorrow you are a feather duster."

But his impact on HSBC in particular will be long remembered. As Simon Maughan, the sector analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, said: "It's Bond that has cast HSBC as one of the top banks in the world and that's an important legacy."