As the internal note from investment bank head Jes Staley and J.P. Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon said, Abdelnour “has informed us of his intention to leave the company this summer to pursue personal interests”.
They went on to note: “During Gaby's tenure in Asia, our business there has doubled in size, our net earnings have tripled, and our franchise has performed exceptionally well across the board. Under his leadership, we completed the major build-out of our platform as well as executed on major strategic initiatives in China.”
And then, of course, they wished him “the best in his future endeavours”.
Rival bankers immediately pounced, saying he must have been pushed.
But a banker from J.P. Morgan, who has worked closely with him on deals, said: “No way. Definitely not.” The banker said that Abdelnour did not want Staley’s or Dimon’s job, that he had succeeded in Asia and basically wanted a new challenge.
Lebanon-born Abdelnour has been chairman and CEO for Asia-Pacific since July 2006 — an impressive achievement in its own right, and a longer run at the helm than most of his peers.
But at least one J.P. Morgan banker in Asia did say this doesn't appear to have unfolded according to plan — it usually causes less commotion if senior departures are announced at the same time as their replacements. The reason for the departure from standard protocol, according to our source at J.P. Morgan, is that the story leaked in New York and a statement was then sent out. A spokesperson for the bank denied that there was a leak.
Nonetheless, officials are declining to comment on who will replace Abdelnour. When asked if it was someone from within Asia or from New York, an insider said, “Candidates within the region as well as outside the region, but with Asia experience, have been recommended.”
Sources say that Abdelnour did recommend successor candidates — both inside and outside the region, within J.P. Morgan, to Dimon and Staley.
Prior to taking on the top job here, he headed up the bank’s activities in corporate origination for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He has specialised in providing mergers and acquisitions advice to corporations and to governments in the sale of strategic assets.
Fluent in English, French and Arabic, he joined J.P. Morgan in 1998 as a managing director responsible for J.P. Morgan’s business in the Middle East and North Africa, focusing on state-owned entities and sovereign wealth funds. Prior to joining J.P. Morgan, he was a managing director at Merrill Lynch based in Hong Kong and Singapore, where he worked on M&A and restructuring in the telecoms and energy sectors, as well as leading the high-yield debt business in Asia.
Before that, Abdelnour spent 10 years at Bankers Trust, where he was a managing director in the merchant banking group focusing on M&A, leveraged buyouts and private equity.
He has served as a member of the executive committee, the investment bank operating committee, the international steering committee and the board of the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation.
During the past few months, there have been rumours of a quiet shake-up underway at J.P. Morgan — with a growing number of high-ranking New York bankers looking to move out to Asia. Some of it we’ve seen already. The bank brought out Jeff Zajkowski to head equity capital and derivatives markets for Asia-Pacific, which includes Japan and Australia. But the bank has also promoted from within the region — most recently elevating Pranav Thakur to head of fixed income for emerging Asia. He took over the role from Tarun Mahrotri, who was also global co-head of emerging markets, and who left the bank.
Despite the changes now afoot at J.P. Morgan, Abdelnour’s leadership undoubtedly helped to solidify the bank’s Asia franchise — and no sniping from rival bankers can take that away from him. He added a prime brokerage team to serve hedge fund clients in Asia. He clocked the wealth-creation trend in Asia and broadened the private bank’s focus from just the ultra-high-net-worth group.
But, most important, he executed on major strategic initiatives in China — he established the securities joint venture, J.P. Morgan First Capital Securities, which started operations in June 2011, and he opened branches in Guangzhou and Chengdu in 2009, a sixth branch in Harbin last year and has received approval to open a branch in Suzhou.
He also invested in a guarantee company in China last November that will guarantee loans to small and medium-sized Chinese enterprises, which have typically been overlooked by lenders in favour of state-owned enterprises.
And the bank’s latest move into China came just last week when it agreed to take a 19.9% stake in Henan-based Bridge Trust, which gives J.P. Morgan a platform to offer investment opportunities.
Abdelnour could not be reached for comment, but a source close to him said: “He wants to take some time off and think about his next step ... he will work all the way through the summer.”