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Jackson Tai, CEO of DBS Bank: The house that Jack built?

Jackson Tai brought a determined pan-Asian strategy to Singapore’s DBS Bank. With Tai on the point of retiring as CEO, Chris Wright looks at the successes and failures of his approach.

The Stanchart rumour

THIS MONTH, THE chief executive of Singapore’s DBS Bank, Jackson Tai, will step down. With his departure to the US, Asia loses a strident advocate of the idea that a powerful pan-Asian institution can be built without the irksome distractions of a London or New York head office, or indeed more than a handful of westerners on the board or in management.

Tai is well known for his vision that DBS should be a pan-Asian bank, headquartered in Asia, run by Asians, for Asians. And he spent years working on it, starting as CFO when he joined from JPMorgan in 1999, and then, from 2002, as CEO. But has he managed to fulfil his goal?

DBS, the largest bank in southeast Asia by assets, is also the most regionally diverse locally headquartered institution. It is in 12 Asian markets; owns a significant business in Hong Kong; has a subsidiary in Indonesia; holds stakes in institutions in Thailand, India, Malaysia and the Philippines; and is locally incorporated in China. In the first nine months of 2007, 36% of revenues came from outside Singapore, and if the China business takes off from the platform of its new local licence, that figure will get much closer to the 50% that Tai and other DBS top brass have often targeted.

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