DBS hires Piyush Gupta from Citi as CEO

DBS Group appoints veteran Citi banker Piyush Gupta, 49, as chief executive officer.

DBS Group announced yesterday that it has wooed veteran banker Piyush Gupta from Citi to take on the role as chief executive officer.

A Singapore permanent resident, Gupta, 49, has spent more than two-thirds of his 27-year career in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, including eight years in Singapore. DBS said Gupta will join the bank in November, though his appointment is subject to regulatory approval.

The announcement comes nearly five months after DBS's former CEO, Richard Stanley, died of leukaemia, which he had been diagnosed with in January. He was 48. Since then, DBS chairman Koh Boon Hwee has been overseeing the management of Southeast Asia's biggest bank by assets.

Prior to joining DBS as chief executive on May 1, 2008, Stanley was Citi's top China banker. And once again, DBS has raided Citi, as Gupta is currently Citi's CEO for Southeast Asia-Pacific, covering Asean (Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei), Australia, New Zealand and Guam.

"Piyush has made a tremendous contribution to Citi in his 27-year career with the bank. His decision to leave is a personal one and we wish him well in his future endeavours. While it is not unusual for Citi bankers to be sought after for leadership positions in other organisations, we are fortunate that Citi has a particularly deep bench of senior talent both in Asia and around the world," said Shirish Apte, Citi's CEO for Asia-Pacific.

Citi insiders say they are not surprised by Piyush's departure given that on July 7 Citi announced that Stephen Bird and Apte had been made chief executive officers for Asia-Pacific. The management reshuffling was the result of Ajay Banga's resignation in June from his position as Citi's Asia-Pacific CEO. Banga resigned in order to join MasterCard as president and COO.

Apte was brought in from Europe to become Asia-Pacific CEO with responsibility for South Asia, effectively pushing Gupta aside, while Bird, who was already CEO for North Asia, was promoted to Asia-Pacific CEO with responsibility for the North Asia region. Gupta could not be reached for comment, but another source commented that Gupta would have started interviewing for the DBS position earlier this year, well before Banga's departure was firmed up, given that such senior-level appointments typically go through various rounds and levels. The opportunity to be the head honcho at a bank that is largely focused on a region with which Gupta is very familiar would have been hard to pass up at this stage in his career, added the source.

Gupta's role at Citi is not expected to be replaced given Apte's move to the region, said a source. Citi declined to comment on this.

Another Citi insider pointed out that DBS hasn't just poached Citi for executives, it has also turned to the firm for capital raising. Indeed, Citi helped DBS with its $2.7 billion rights issue in January this year. Or as the insider put it: "It's never a bad thing to have someone ex-Citi as a key client."

During his time at Citi, Gupta was responsible for upping the bank's Southeast Asia credentials. Over the past year, the bank has launched additional commercial banking services in markets such as Indonesia and Thailand and recently it announced plans to set up an Islamic banking subsidiary in Malaysia.

Aside from Gupta's recent departure, at the coverage level Citi has also had to cope with Dan McNamara leaving the firm after the upper management reshuffle. McNamara, who was head of both the financial institutions group (FIG) and real estate at Citi, has signed up at Nomura. Of course, Citi can balance out any such departures by pointing to coverage hires it has made -- such as bringing on board Jason Johnson, who left Credit Suisse to head Citi's natural resources global banking coverage in Asia.

DBS's Take
DBS was keen to point out that in Gupta's current role at Citi, his responsibilities have encompassed all of DBS's businesses, including financial markets, corporate and investment banking, transaction services, credit cards, retail banking and wealth management. DBS said Gupta's broad-based banking experience, spanning frontline and support functions, positions him well to grow its franchise.

"Gupta has successfully managed businesses in good and challenging times and is a seasoned Asia hand, having previously held leadership positions as country manager of Citi in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. He is also known for being a well-rounded leader, who is equally comfortable with high-level strategy and hands-on operating details," DBS said in a press release.

"My fellow directors and I are delighted that Piyush will be joining the bank," said DBS chairman Koh Boon Hwee. "Piyush is strategic, yet detail oriented; and has the ability to nurture high-performing teams. We are confident that he will help to strengthen our franchise and grow our footprint in Asia."

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