J.P. Morgan investment banker Philip Lee has resigned after nearly 18 years with the firm, during which time he has almost become the face of the bank in Southeast Asia.
Lee joined the US bank in 1995 and was appointed head of investment banking for Southeast Asia in 2001. In addition to that he was also the senior country officer for Singapore, making him responsible for coordinating all of the bank’s operations in the island state.
His departure, which was announced internally on Friday last week, seems to have taken a number of colleagues and clients by surprise, but given Lee’s extensive relationships in Southeast Asia and the growing importance of that region, it is really not that surprising that rival firms have been attempting to poach him.
And according to sources, he is going to another firm. Rumours suggest it is Deutsche Bank, which lost its own face of Southeast Asia about a year ago when its Singapore-based head of corporate and investment banking for Asia-Pacific, Loh Boon Chye, left the bank. Loh initially took some time off, but in December last year he returned to the industry and a job as deputy president and head of Asia-Pacific global markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Deutsche didn’t replace Loh directly, but effectively filled the gap he left with three new Asia-Pacific appointments: Michael Ormaechea as head of fixed income, currency and commodities (FICC) and equities; Bhupinder Singh as head of corporate finance and structuring; and Marzio Keiling as head of the institutional client group.
There is no confirmation that Lee is joining Deutsche or what potential role he could be a candidate for, but it seems unlikely that he would leave J.P. Morgan after all this time if it wasn’t for a slightly bigger or different role than the one he had.
Wherever he ends up, he will bring with him an impressive list of clients in Southeast Asia that he has cultivated during almost 25 years in the industry. J.P. Morgan’s strong business relationship with the CapitaLand group is well known and often cited, but it is also a repeat arranger of deals for Olam, Global Logistic Properties, the Genting group, Noble Group and Thailand’s PTT among others.
Before he joined J.P. Morgan, Lee was head of investment banking in Malaysia at Credit Suisse First Boston and he has previously also worked with Citi.
In addition to his day-job, Lee has also been one of J.P. Morgan’s two representatives on the governing council of the Association of Banks in Singapore, a non-profit organisation that represents the interests of the commercial and investment banking community.
He leaves J.P. Morgan after the bank announced at the end of March that it had created two new regional CEO roles to help coordinate client coverage and strategy across countries. One of those roles went to Rob Priestley, who was appointed CEO of Asean, which at J.P. Morgan includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Priestley will also retain his other responsibilities as senior country officer for Australia and New Zealand and will continue to be based in Sydney.
While it may be tempting to link Lee’s departure to Priestley’s expanded role, the reality is that it takes more than a couple of weeks to land a senior job at a new firm. Hence, it is unlikely that the two are unrelated.
According to an internal announcement at the time, J.P. Morgan created the new regional roles in response to the increasing cross-border activities of its clients, greater volumes in terms of intra-regional trade flows and improved market connectivity. In addition to Priestley, it also appointed Greg Guyett CEO of Greater China. Guyett has been head of the global corporate bank for the past three years and is currently based in London. He will relocate to Asia later this year and will divide his time between Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei.
According to a J.P. Morgan spokesperson, the bank has yet to announce a replacement for Lee and with regard to Singapore that may take some time since senior positions need to be approved by the local regulators. Therese Esperdy, who is co-head of banking for Asia Pacific, will handle Lee’s role as head of investment banking for Southeast Asia on an interim basis. Up until December last year, she was co-head of investment banking for the region.