"The lion's got a lot of roar left in it," said HSBC's Asia-Pacific ex-Greater China trade and supply chain head Simon Constantinides referring to his view on Asia's economic prospects.
Constantinides took over from Mark Evans as the bank's new regional head of trade and supply chain last month. Relocated from New York, he is responsible for managing and growing HSBC's trade and supply chain business across market segments in all of the bank's Asia-Pacific markets except China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. He is also responsible for South Africa.
Evans left the bank in June to take over as global head of trade and supply chain at ANZ. The Melbourne-based bank is currently two years into its "super-regional" Asia strategy that will bring it into direct competition with HSBC's trade business throughout the region.
Constantinides previously worked as HSBC's US head of sales, trade and supply chain.
"Simon's skills and expertise were key in helping HSBC extend its leadership position in North America," said Lawrence Webb, global head of trade and supple chain at HSBC. "I am confident that he will successfully lead the development and growth of our business in Asia Pacific and South Africa."
Only a few weeks into the job, Constantinides sat down with FinanceAsia to discuss his plans for the region.
What is your strategy in 2009?
The strategy for 2009 is focused around trade and supply chain as a key business for HSBC -- not just in the Asia region, but across the group as a whole. This includes attracting new customers to the bank and ensuring that we're servicing and delivering upon our model to existing customers.
And next year?
It's a little bit premature to give any insight into our 2010 plans but, as Sandy Flockhart, chief executive of HSBC, said, "Perhaps we've seen the worst of times and things might slowly start now to recover." HSBC is well placed to capitalise on this upturn as there is still great momentum in understanding customer needs and how we can help businesses grow.
Earlier this year, we launched HSBC's inaugural Trade Confidence Index that will be released by the end of the third quarter. We look forward to seeing the results of this survey which will help to identify priorities and challenges facing importers and exporters as we plan for 2010.
Do you have anything in particular you want to focus in the new position?
One of the things our customers are asking for is increased dialogue with us on what we are seeing in the market. A bank like HSBC can help customers gain a full appreciation of what products and services they truly need to help manage themselves through these times. Educating and helping customers move up the value chain is a growing area of focus and HSBC's Trade Academy is a testament to this, which we will be launching on a wider scale in 2010. These are essentially externally focused workshops that provide learning opportunities to our customers.
Why do you feel you are qualified for the regional trade head position?
I've got a long back ground in trade and supply chain. I've been a credit officer as well as a relationship manager, so I've been on the customer group side and the product side. I have a track record of bringing businesses together that might not have been completely aligned, taking businesses forward, building a performance culture and am very much in tune with making sure our solutions and our business are in line with our customers' needs.
I want to capitalise on the good work that's already been going on here and continue the positive momentum.
As you're coming from New York, how are your chopstick skills?
I'm actually pretty good with chopsticks and ready for my new region and new challenges.
What is the state of Asian trade?
Right now, most customers across the globe are still taking a conservative approach to their businesses. I think this will continue through this year and into the early part of 2010. However, we do feel that the Asian markets will rebound sooner than other markets around the world.
HSBC is taking a harder look at trade corridors across many regions. We're not just focused on east-to-west trade but actually really trying to identify and better understand what the trade corridors are within respective regions, including Asia-Pacific.
We're trying to get a little more micro level in terms of where we can identify true opportunities in the trade corridors within regions.
And your outlook for the region?
While the economy is slow right now, I -- from all the discussions I've been having with the heads of trade from the region, together with Chris Lewis who manages trade and supply chain for Greater China -- see a lot of energy and excitement. Asian countries are really just pushing against the starting gate ready for things to pick up. There is a much more positive attitude here that the market will start to pick up than I would have thought.