* Former AIA CEO doubled insurer’s market cap
* Ex-soccer player to grapple with HSBC’s low returns
* Investors welcome experienced, detail-focused executive
By Sumeet Chatterjee and Lawrence White
HONG KONG/LONDON March 13 (Reuters) - HSBC’s new Chairman Mark Tucker is known in Asia as one of the region’s most successful finance executives for taking insurer AIA through a stock market listing and then more than doubling its market value through a relentless focus on new business.
Tucker proved his mettle to investors who during the 2010 IPO questioned AIA’s ability to expand in a region where not many insurers have been able to build a pan-regional footprint, constraining their ability to pay dividends.
This focus on growth, and a deep knowledge of and love for Asia, will be vital for Tucker, who HSBC named as successor to Douglas Flint as chairman on Monday.
HSBC’s return on equity has sunk below 1 percent, with a tough global economic environment taking a much heavier toll on big global banks than fast-growing Asian insurance companies.
Straight-talking, detail-focused and thorough, London-raised Tucker is not known for his small talk, but those who have worked with him say he is friendly and approachable. The 59-year-old has held several leadership roles, including running Britain’s Prudential, and will take over as HSBC group chairman designate from Sept 1.
“Mark ticks the most important boxes for us,” Rachel Lomax, a senior independent director at HBSC told Reuters on Monday.
“First of all deep knowledge of Asia, which is a must for HSBC at this stage in its history, and secondly he has a financial services background - leadership in an international financial services group - which is pretty hard to come by.”
Tucker’s grasp of increasingly complex financial regulation had sealed the deal, Lomax said.
Tucker honed his competitive instincts during an early career as a professional soccer player, with stints at English clubs Barnet, Rochdale and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
And the insurance executive celebrated his 50th birthday with a broken nose and two black eyes from a clash on the pitch, Jim Sutcliffe, a former CEO of Anglo-South African insurer Old Mutual who worked with Tucker, previously told Reuters.
“He is a very effective, no-nonsense guy and he knows his business inside out,” Linda Sun-Mattison, a London-based senior equity analyst for Asian insurance at Bernstein, said.
His Asia expertise will be crucial at HSBC as pressure to turn around its performance amid growing regulatory challenges and flagging revenues drives a shifts away from Europe to Asia.
The bank makes more than half its profits in Asia, and it sought to strengthen its regional pivot by announcing in 2015 that it would invest in China’s Pearl River Delta (PRD) region to reinvigorate growth after years of restructuring.
Slowing economic growth in the world’s second-largest economy, however, has delayed HSBC’s plans to hire 4,000 new staff and do more business in the country’s southern PRD region, at the heart of the bank’s strategy to grow in China.
“Given HSBC’s core markets and profits are increasingly coming from Asia, having someone with deep experience in Asia is highly valuable,” Keith Pogson, senior partner in Asia Pacific financial services at consultant EY, said.
Tucker will also have to identify a successor to HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver, a process expected to conclude in 2018 and which is likely to prove “challenging”, said Lomax.
Tucker is no stranger to banking after serving on the board of U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs and from 2004-2005 as group finance director of HBOS, the failed British mortgage lender that was rescued by rival Lloyds Banking Group in 2008.
Described as a hands-on and very demanding boss by some of his current and former AIA colleagues, Tucker gave a lot of autonomy to each country office in Asia. But he also held them strictly accountable, said a person who has worked with him.
Before AIA, Tucker worked as chief executive officer of Prudential’s Asia business, Prudential Corporation Asia, for nine years from 1994 and led its expansion from three to 12 markets in the region.
“He’s practical, has done a great job at AIA,” Hugh Young, Aberdeen Asset Management, a major investor in HSBC said.
“It’s a more global job at HSBC but he has had banking and regulatory exposure. It should work well.”
Editing by Michelle Price and Alexander Smith