HSBC\'s Leung puts premium on striving for perfection

HSBC\'s Leung puts premium on striving for perfection

To top bank executive Margaret Leung, building a career in a major financial institution like HSBC is no different from playing golf.

"It's all about perseverance," says Leung, HSBC group general manager and global co-head for Commercial Banking.

"You are actually playing against yourself, just like golf. All these years, I have been laying' golf on my own, and (at the start of every game) I (tell myself that I) have to surpass my (previous) performance."

Aiming for perfection may not be a good thing, but for Leung, achieving anything less than that only means she has to try harder the next time she tees off.

"I always give it my best shot," says the 50-something banker.

Married with two kids, Hong Kong-based Leung is one of HSBC's fast-rising women executives. As group general manager and global co-head of Commercial Banking, she is responsible for the group's relationship with all middle-market corporates and small and medium enterprises in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

She joined HSBC in 1978 to work in its International Corporate Account Division in the group's head office in Hong Kong. In 1985, she moved to Australia to help set up Hong KongBank of Australia Ltd., now HSBC Bank Australia. She returned to Hong Kong in 1988 where she held a number of positions before being appointed head of Corporate Banking in 2000 with responsibility for large multinational corporate customers.

In August 2005, she was appointed Group General Manager of the HSBC Group.

In addition to that role, Leung is a director of HSBC Investments Ltd., HSBC Insurance Holdings in Asia-Pacific, and HSBC Precision Printing Ltd. She is also a member of the Real Estate/Infrastructure Committee of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Sub-Committee on the Promotion of Corporate Volunteering of the Social Welfare Department, and a council member of the Resource Counseling Center to name a few.

A mesh of cultures

"I think the bank is now changing. When I was appointed in August, there was only one female manager. (From that point on), two (more) women were appointed," she says. "Out of the 27 general managers of the group, three are women."

That's not all, says Leung, noting that HSBC's top management team is comprised of executives of various cultural backgrounds.

"We have Asians, North Americans, South Americans, Indians, people from the Middle East, and people with Islamic and Christian backgrounds," she says.

"Everybody will have some new ideas to bring to the table, and our customers are going to benefit from that diversity. We serve 79 countries, and that means we need people from 79 countries to look after our customers."

HSBC also believes in nurturing local talents, and is encouraging local recruitment, she adds.

"In time, we might have local CEOs as well. We already have local CEOs in Hong Kong," says Leung. "We believe that letting local people run our businesses is key (to our team's success)."

Local businesses can benefit

Taiwanese businesses, says the executive, will be benefiting from HSBC's large talent pool and international presence. In China alone, HSBC has Taiwanese desks set up in Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Suzhou, she says. The bank also has a team working in Hong Kong serving Taiwanese enterprises.

Always keeping an eye on the bottom line, Leung says the group does not care where the profit gets billed as long as the revenues end up in HSBC's coffers.

"We always look at profit," she says. "We don't care where that income is captured. We just work as a group, and (that's one of our) strong points."

Those who bring home the bacon naturally get fat bonuses, adds Leung.

"We make sure we (give incentives to) our people," she explains. "All the members of the team will get a share of that revenue on top of their salaries."

At a recent HSBC CEO conference in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corp. CEO Mike Smith underscored the importance of paying attention to the competition in today's fast-changing environment, Leung says.

"(Smith) asked CEOs to look at what the competition is doing. There's no point in saying how good you are. You have to look at (your rivals) and see where (they are) beating you, where their strengths and weaknesses are," she says.

"I always believe that if you want to beat the competition, you have to build on your own strength and improve on your weaknesses. We do believe our strength is our global presence. There's only one bank that is very widespread in the world, and that's us."

Diversified earnings

This is also represented in the group's earnings.

"A third of our income comes from Europe, a third from the two Americas, and a third from Asia-Pacific. Which bank has that kind of global spread?" she asks.

HSBC is not one to rest on its laurels, Leung points out.

"All the time, we look at what we can do to be better. We are not only comparing ourselves with banks, we are actually comparing ourselves with non-banks that are doing what we do," she says.

This includes HSBC's global payments service.

"We continue to enhance that capability by saying we can deliver your cash in three hours," says the executive. "Our trade is also second to none. If you want to present your bills in Hong Kong or Taiwan, no problem. If the bills are in China, and (our customers) want that money captured in Taiwan and Hong Kong, we can do that too."

In terms of market capitalization, HSBC leads the pack globally, she says.

"Our market capitalization is the largest in the world, and we do have future investments to keep us on the lead," she continues. "Our Group CEO also told us to be innovative since we want to be the leader, not the follower, in this market."

To HSBC, the Asia-Pacific market represents a huge chunk of its business. According to Leung, the bank's global commercial banking business contributes 22 percent to the bank's income, 33 percent of which comes from Asia-Pacific.

"And within that 33 percent, 60 percent comes from Greater China," she says. "(This only proves that) Greater China is a very strong driving force in our business in the region."

Despite her success at HSBC, Leung believes she still has a lot to learn.

"You have to have consistency," she says. "If you don't shift gears and change with the times, you will only get incremental growth."

She is also receptive to new ideas, Leung continues.

"If I see someone doing something right, I follow him or her," she says. "That person's profession or nationality does not even matter. I don't even have to like that individual. If what they are doing is working, learn from them."

Updated : 2021-02-25 19:04 GMT+08:00