Morgan Stanley's Owen Thomas to leave Hong Kong

Wall Street beckons Owen Thomas who will relinquish his post as CEO of Asia for Morgan Stanley. The US investment bank has not yet announced a successor.

Owen Thomas, Morgan Stanley's chief executive for Asia, is relinquishing his post and moving back to the US. The bank is yet to announce a successor.

Thomas, who is widely known as OT, was appointed CEO for the US investment bank in Asia in early 2008 after Hans Schuettler unexpectedly resigned. Thomas was president of Morgan Stanley Investment Management at the time, a job he had held since December 2005.  He was also on Morgan Stanley’s global management committee, a role he continued to hold even when he moved to Hong Kong to take up his new responsibilities.

Colm Kelleher, who happened to be in Hong Kong on Friday on a trip through Asia, made the announcement that Thomas would be moving on at a town hall meeting, FinanceAsia has learnt. Kelleher is head of Europe, the Middle East and Asia ex-Japan as well as co-head of institutional securities for Morgan Stanley.

The move is a decision Thomas and his family have taken due to personal reasons, said sources.

A Morgan Stanley spokesperson confirmed that Thomas would be relocating in June and that no successor has as yet been announced.

Thomas is a 20-year Morgan Stanley veteran who earlier ran the bank’s real estate investing business from 1994 and was head of Morgan Stanley real estate from 2000 to 2005.  He was reinstated as chairman of Morgan Stanley real estate investing in 2009, a role in which he is expected to continue.

During his tenure in Asia, Thomas has been instrumental in building onshore platforms for the US investment bank in some of its larger markets. These include India, where UTI veteran P Jayendra Nayak was appointed CEO and country head in March last year, and Taiwan where Sean Chao, an 18-year veteran of UBS, became the new CEO for Morgan Stanley in August.

Thomas was also appointed chairman of Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in 2010.  Some sources said he may relinquish this role once a successor is appointed to the position of CEO of Asia.

Thomas’s easygoing personality made him a popular figure among the bank’s staff in the region and he appears to have settled comfortably into Hong Kong during his time here.

The move follows soon on the heels of a reorganisation of Morgan Stanley’s investment banking business in Asia, although the two developments seem coincidental rather than connected. Gokul Laroia, who used to co-head investment banking with Kate Richdale, has taken up a new role as head of equities for Asia leaving Richdale in sole charge of investment banking.

“Laroia now manages the division that is Morgan Stanley’s biggest revenue-earner in the region,” commented an observer on the move.

Some onlookers have speculated that Wei Sun Christianson, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive for China, is also ready to assume a larger role. She joined from Citi, where she was then chairman of China, in 2006. Christianson had worked at Morgan Stanley in the early part of her career, as well as at Credit Suisse.

China has been a large contributor to Morgan Stanley’s success in investment banking in Asia and Christianson is widely considered the rain-maker responsible. Apart from closing a number of deals, last year Morgan Stanley also finally managed to sell its 34.3% stake in China International Capital Corp, paving the way for it to set up a securities joint venture with China Fortune Securities (also known as Huaxin Securities) that will give the US firm more direct access to China’s domestic markets.

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