Singaporeans don’t deserve Piyush Gupta
“Foreign talent” and the decline of Singapore Inc
I was the first person ever to complain that Singapore and DBS should be cultivating its own CEOs, way back in 2006 or so. Read my blogs. I was probably the first person to bring this up with key people in the industry.
It was Lee Kuan Yew who hastily hired John Olds, a retired JP Morgan investment banker who had never run a bank to turn DBS into something that he had not figured out for himself. At the time, LKY was going through this angst of how to take Singapore to the “next level”, heard ideas at JP Morgan Advisory Board meetings, and was clearly impatient. He probably met Olds in the elevator. Ambitious men make mistakes like these.
Many Singaporeans were very proud then, to have their top bank run by a white man from America. It fit the whole edifice. Singapore Inc. was doing well, Singaporeans were properly hired in the Singapore Inc. companies. At that time, DBS’ rank and file was made up of mostly endearing, embarrassing, comfortable, conformist, non-competitive luddites who would qualify as country bumpkins if this were a larger country, the result of years of pampering and strong economic growth. The head of retail in those days was the nicest little old lady I remember vividly, pompously quoted in the local newspapers on the eve of her retirement saying, “my father taught me never a lender nor a borrower be.”
I saw in Olds a retired man who had never run a bank before. He sure knew how to keep his mouth shut when he had no clue what he was dealing with. Olds left before he could be found out, recommending the first white man he could find. Philippe Paillart, who replaced Olds, was not difficult to find – he actually lived in Singapore for most of his professional life with Standard Chartered Bank. His son studied at NUS. A Singaporean without being one.
He was, without exaggeration, responsible for the careers of almost every single senior retail banker I knew in Singapore and the region from his Citibank and Standard Chartered days. He is still the personal mentor of so many Singaporean bankers today who eventually took leadership positions, and mine. He was also one of the main reasons DBS was able to walk into Hong Kong and buy Dao Heng Bank because very simply, he knew the family that owned it, and that acquisition gave DBS the break to become just that bit more the international bank it wanted to be. DBS Hong Kong is an anchor business for DBS today, generating the profits it sorely needs.