Monday, September 24, 2007

Jackson Tai to leave DBS

DBS bank has just announced that CEO Jackson Tai is to leave DBS at the end of the year to return to the USA to be with his family.

Said Tai: “Under my watch, DBS has established a sound platform for growth. Today, DBS has extended its geographic presence beyond Singapore with inroads into Hong Kong, China, India and Indonesia. I am confident the team will build on the strong momentum created in a resurgent Asia to further strengthen our position as a leading bank in this region.”

He added: “For more than eight years, I have dedicated myself to DBS and Singapore, even as my family remained in the States. There’s never a perfect time to leave but having been CEO for five years, I believe it’s now right for me to catch up with my family.”

This is certainly a surprising announcement that must be unexpected to many people. In fact, it seems that it is only now that DBS is starting to get its overseas growth plan going, having just emerged from the legacy of its expensive acquisition of Dao Heng bank and only just begun its official entry into the mainland Chinese banking market.

It is unlikely that Tai's departure has anything to do with the subprime crisis, of which DBS had little exposure. What seems more likely is that managing DBS's future is not exciting nor challenging enough for this former top investment banker to want to stay around in Singapore for the longer term. While it is true that Tai has established a platform for growth for the bank, there still is a lot to be done in terms of expanding the company's businesses in overseas markets; in many ways, Tai's successor will have his work cut out for him, to say the least.

But perhaps Tai's departure underscores DBS's difficulty in selecting the right talent to lead the company. Foreign candidates of Tai's calibre and experience may be lured to Singapore's shores for a period of time, but they will find it difficult to stay for the long term. Hanging around in Singapore for a few years may be an interesting experience, but the novelty wears off after a while.

In pursuing its global exective search for a new CEO, DBS may want to consider sacrificing international experience for someone who is more likely to stick around for the long term in order to give the bank a sense of continuity of leadership at the top. Constantly replacing CEOs without promoting from within makes the leadership disjointed, and top management has to constantly readjust and adapt to a new man or woman at the helm.

Of course, there is no better way to ensure continuity and consistency of leadership than by appointing someone who is homegrown and whom DBS can be sure of having his/her heart in Singapore.

Read DBS' press release here.

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