Jackson Tai will lose a tennis doubles partner with the departure of Philippe Paillart from DBS. However, he can console himself that he will become CEO of the bank in the Frenchman's place. Tai's appointment marks a return to the JPMorgan mafia at DBS, after a one-and-a half year flirtation with a former Standard Chartered consumer banker.
Tai has been at DBS since 1999, and came to the bank in the John Olds era. Olds was another lifelong JPMorgan banker. The Singapore government owns 30% of DBS, and brought in Olds with the stated objective to modernize it and shake up Singapore's then cosy banking sector.
Given the consolidation that has since happened, the strategy has obviously worked.
Tai is committed to turning DBS into one of Asia's premier regional banks. As he recently told FinanceAsia, "Less than a year ago, DBS was heavily concentrated in Singapore. More than 85% of our revenues and assets were concentrated just in Singapore. Today, by virtue of steps we've taken, we are a bank that is better balanced with only 60% concentrated in Singapore and 35% in Hong Kong.
"Our institutional investors embrace the concept of scale and diversification. And therefore we feel most of our investors are quite comfortable that for DBS to be successful we've got to continue to improve the footprint and to achieve scale in order to reduce unit cost and be more competitive."
DBS's expansion was gained via its acquisition of Dao Heng in Hong Kong. The jury has been out on whether this was an expensive deal, but to be fair, it will only be possible to judge three or four years from now.
For Tai, the position of CEO will bring new pressures and time-management challenges, but few feel that it is too much of a leap for him. His experiences over the past year as president and CFO have added decades of experience to his resume. The abortive hostile takeover of OUB and the bank's equity capital raising exercise were seminal moments.
Before joining DBS, he had been a lifelong investment banker, although not necessarily an extravagant one. Tai started life with JPMorgan in 1974 and still uses a calculator he bought in 1986. He claims to travel economy class when he flies at weekends. But it is his facility for detail, numbers and hard work that rarely fail to impress. "Jack has unlimited energy and is incredibly hardworking," says Michael Dee, Morgan Stanley's Singapore boss.
He is also an email-addict, and is normally diligent about replying. Staff note a good career strategy is to programme Outlook to send him emails very late at night.
But in an email to FinanceAsia to confirm some personal details he wrote: "There is absolutely no truth to the vicious rumour that I don't sleep."
It is thought that he will create a flatter organizational structure, in part because he is a believer in delegating. As he puts it: "You cannot have a well run company unless you have the very best managers."
He is also not certain that Singapore's bank consolidation is over: "People often refer to the fact that there are now three banks in Singapore. I correct them by saying there are three local banks, but many foreign banks which are very strong in their targeted segments. So if you include the foreign banks, I would argue there are too many banks for the population, and Singapore economy. So, yes, I believe there is room for more consolidation."