Homecoming for new Watson Wyatt chief

Hong Kong native daughter Chuly Lee will head the regional business.

Last night Watson Wyatt held a dinner at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club to honour Grahame Stott, who is stepping down as the regional director, Asia Pacific after 20 years of service with the firm here, including eight in the top role.

CEO John Haley flew in from the firm's headquarters in Washington, DC for the event.

Chuly Lee, a Hong Kong native who now handles top-level strategic advice in New York for the firm, is arriving to assume the reigns starting July 1. She started off with the firm in the early 1990s as a consultant in Hong Kong and then opened the Korea office, which Haley says turned out to be the most successful opening in the firm's history in Asia. He notes the office actually made money during the height of the financial crisis. Then Lee moved to New York. "She's seen all aspects of the company," says Haley.

She will also be one of only two Asia-based executives on the firm's management committee, along with Manila-based JP Orbeta.

According to Haley, Lee will head the firm's most dynamic side of the business. Watson's strengths are in Europe and Asia, and Haley predicts growth will continue to lead from Asia, especially Asia.

He notes demographic changes will shrink work forces throughout the world. "That means with fewer people, companies can't make HR mistakes," he says, creating a lot of opportunities for consultants such as Watson Wyatt. "Moreover as people age they have more concerns about their retirement benefits."

China is also the scene of the greatest demand for benefits consulting, as state-owned companies continue to go public, which creates entirely new compensation, benefits and performance management concerns, many of which are alien to traditional Chinese companies.

He also believes the firm will at some point look to open one or two more offices in China. In Greater China it currently has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.

Stott is retiring to a home in Bristol, UK. "He's going to be a country squire," Haley says. "We will miss him."

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