Stephen Roach leaves Asia for Yale and non-exec role

Stephen Roach will trade in his role as chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia to become a non-executive chairman, as he relocates to New York and joins the faculty of Yale University.
Stephen Roach
Stephen Roach

Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, will relocate from Hong Kong to New York on July 1 to become a non-executive chairman of Asia. He will also join the faculty of Yale University undergraduate and its school of management.

For old-China hands, that's a loss to Asia. Roach, with his strong views on China and the region, has been a banker willing to spar with panelists and audience members when he's spoken at seminars, and with journalists when he's presented his views at press meetings. He's one of the more accessible bankers in the region -- the sort who stays after panels to carry on the debate. After the press release went out about his impending move, Roach picked up the phone and dialled FinanceAsia for a chat (a refreshing change from folks who get their secretaries to do that for them -- or who gets on a plane before you have a chance to dial them!).

When asked who will replace him, he chuckled, "I'm irreplaceable" -- knowing I wouldn't (and the reader shouldn't) take that for hubris, but rather an opportunity to quip that one-liner given I lobbed him a no-brainer shot. He did go on to say: "By tweaking the role from executive to non-executive chairman, Morgan Stanley is keeping me on as chair. Maybe down the road they will find someone who will take on this job, but not just yet."

Indeed, Roach will probably debate me on the line that his move is a "loss for Asia" as he noted several times during the phone interview that he plans to be in the region once a month. So he'll still be around. In the press release, Morgan Stanley said that as non-executive chairman of Asia, Roach will travel regularly for the firm and stay connected to clients, governments and regulators in Asia and other parts of the world. He will also continue to be actively engaged in the global thought leadership debate through speeches and his frequent writings, the bank said.

Normally, I'd be sceptical. But given that Roach says he has managed to rack up 1.2 million miles of air travel in three years, making him the most travelled person within Morgan Stanley (the firm keeps track of the air miles), it's perfectly conceivable that he will carry on travelling back and forth to the region that he so clearly cares about. (When Roach told me that little air mile statistic, he noted that he got up mid-way through the screening of Up in the Air and walked out; it was too close to home.)

Roach took up his role as Asia chairman in June 2007. Most people, however, know him for his writing and his speeches as he previously served as the firm's chief economist. At that time he was based in New York from where he also headed Morgan Stanley's global team of economists. During his 25-year career as an economist at Morgan Stanley he was widely recognised as one of Wall Street's most influential thought leaders. He has written extensively on global economic imbalances and on Asia's and China's place and future in the post-crisis world.

When asked what his current take on China is, he said" "My basic fundamental view is extremely positive. But China has to deal with the repercussions of the stimulus programme and unwind it, and that's challenging."

So is he worried? It appears not. "Ultimately, China is very successful at dealing with bumps in the road before they become potholes," said Roach.

He clearly plans to carry on watching China. The first course that he will be teaching at Yale University will be on the Chinese economy, entitled "The Next China" -- a bit of a public relations spin on his 2009 book Stephen Roach on the Next Asia. He will be teaching upper-level undergraduates and graduate students with a focus on Asia and macroeconomic policy and he recently did a trial run at the gig, working as a co-teacher in a management course. So he knows what he's getting into. Indeed, as we talked more about going back to university life he started describing the students as "neat and cool", adjectives that to my memory, I've never heard him use before in any banking context. Though, frankly, why would you? It seems this move to get a "better balance in life" as he describes it, might be a refreshing idea.

I'd end the story there, but it would be remiss if I didn't add in the usual high-level bank spiel too. So here it is: "While Steve has made the decision to return to the US and join the faculty at Yale, we are delighted he will also remain with the firm," James Gorman, president and chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley, said in the press release. "Steve has been a tremendous asset to Morgan Stanley. We all wish him luck in his new role and look forward to continuing to work with him in his new capacity."

"We are very appreciative of Steve's important impact and effectiveness as Asia chairman and we are very pleased that in his new role he will continue to be an active contributor to the firm's success in the region," added Owen Thomas, CEO of Morgan Stanley Asia. "During his three years based in Hong Kong, Steve has further cemented his reputation as a clear and original thinker, commentator and communicator on the world's major macro themes."

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