The Asian who broke the old-school barrier

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The Independent Online
RANA TALWAR is keenly aware of his status as the first Asian to head a major Western bank, following his appointment as chief executive designate to Standard Chartered Bank yesterday.

But the fact that he will be the first Asian to head up a company in the FTSE 100, the top 100 companies on the British stock market, merely redoubles his determination to succeed in his new job.

He also acknowledges the irony that an Indian, born and raised in Delhi, will now be head of the international bank which once followed the flag wherever the map was painted Imperial red.

"I think it is a very pleasant thing," he says. "Standard Chartered is a 150-year-old, respected institution. To be the first Indian, the first Asian to be put at the head of an international bank like this is very pleasing," he says.

"It also increases my own sense of responsibility [to succeed in the job]," he adds.

The 50-year-old economics graduate from St Stephen's College in Delhi, who is about to take over as chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank, insists he wasn't promised the job when he joined 14 months ago.

Mr Talwar admitted yesterday that he had been talking to London-based Standard Chartered "for years". He had spent the previous 18 years with Citicorp, an American rival, which he originally joined in his native India.

The switch to Standard involved moving his family, including one son and two daughters, from Chicago to London.

Mr Talwar says: "I and my family love London. It's undoubtedly the best place to live in the world, and I intend to live here for the next 10 years. It was a major factor why I decided to take the job. You can do anything, the language, the pubs, the sport - it's great."

He will join a number of other Asians on Standard Chartered's board of directors. These include Ho Kwon Ping, the Singapore-based president of Wah Chang Group and chairman of Singapore Power, and Ronnie Chan, a property developer based in Hong Kong.

He originally joined Citicorp in his home city of Delhi in 1969, and spent the following 18 years helping to manage its global network.

"I started off in corporate banking in India, and then in 1978 I moved to Saudi Arabia, where I spent three years running the bank's treasury operations. Then I moved to Hong Kong and became the regional treasurer for Asia," says Mr Talwar. "I moved to Singapore in 1981, where I helped build a commercial banking business for Citibank in Asia from scratch. That business now makes profits of over $500m a year," he says proudly.

For the 18 months before joining Standard Chartered Mr Talwar was based in Chicago, and in charge of all Citibank's banking operations in Europe and the US. His recruitment is seen as quite a coup in the City.

"There was no contract that I would get the top job at Standard Chartered, but I was told I would definitely be in the running," says Mr Talwar.

He will succeed Malcolm Williamson as chief executive in October. He had to beat off tough competition from Philippe Paillart, executive director for consumer banking, who was the City's favourite to succeed Mr William- son.

The bank announced yesterday that French-born Mr Paillart is to resign from the board on 30 June "to pursue other interests", after eight years with the bank.

None of which fazes Mr Talwar. Mr Williamson's reign saw Standard Chartered recovering from a rocky period of bad loans and international scandals. The former Barclays man also pressed ahead with the sale of the bank's palatial Colonial residences in the centre of Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Talwar now wants the bank to start expanding again. "I believe the market, and sometimes our own people, undervalue our franchise in Africa, for instance. Asia is core to our existence but we do have other opportunities. We need to invest more," he says.

While Asia will remain the bank's main market - it's one of the biggest "high street" banks in Hong Kong, for instance - the new man also wants to expand into relatively untrodden areas, such as eastern Europe and central Asia, areas where the bank has no presence so far.

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