With a name like his, John Reginald Hartnell Bond might well be a member of the House of Lords, or at least a stodgy British banker.
Mr. Bond is a British banker, all right-chairman and chief executive officer of London-based HSBC Holdings PLC, once a conservative banking company with headquarters in Hong Kong and origins in Shanghai.
But the slightly built, 57-year-old Mr. Bond is anything but stodgy. Continuing a revolution started by his predecessor, Sir William Purves, whom he succeeded last May, he is changing the bank's character by shifting more of its business to the developed nations, from emerging-market countries.
Mr. Bond made his biggest move this week, announcing plans to buy $50.5 billion-asset Republic New York Corp. for $10.3 billion in cash.
It would be HSBC's biggest acquisition since Sir William bought Britain's Midland Bank in 1992 for $6 billion.
Mr. Bond expects that by broadening HSBC's geographic base of operations, as well as its product line, earnings will be stabilized and a better balance will be created. Last year, for example, HSBC's per-share earnings plummeted almost 22% because of the financial crisis in Asian countries. As a result, the growth in its per-share earnings over the last four years, at 24%, trails the 35% growth in assets.
"We aim to maintain a balance of earnings between the industrial nations and the emerging markets," Mr. Bond said during an interview in April.
In addition to his Republic purchase, Mr. Bond has been buying banks in Asia and Latin America, where he thinks he can pick them up at bargain- basement prices. He describes his purchases as "opportunistic."
Since becoming CEO, Mr. Bond has agreed to pay $900 million to acquire a 70% stake in South Korea's SeoulBank, and $183 million to acquire 67% of Malta's Mid-Med Bank PLC. He spent another $134 million to buy out minority shareholders in Guyerzeller Bank AG, a small Swiss private bank.
Since 1997, HSBC has spent about $5 billion on acquisitions in Asia and Latin America, including Banco Bamerindus in Brazil, Banco Roberts in Argentina, and a 19.9% stake in Banca Serfin in Mexico.
Mr. Bond said he remains confident that banking in emerging markets will grow far faster than in Europe or the United States, despite the recent bout of volatility in Asia and Latin America. But he also cautions that economic growth without reforms in market practices in Asia could easily cause troubles again.
"Political and economic structures in Asia still need to catch up with extremely fast economic growth," Mr. Bond said.
The fast expansion of HSBC in recent years has pushed Mr. Bond into spending nearly one-third of his time traveling, including seven to eight trips a year to the United States and a trip to Asia every six weeks. He views this as a crucial part of his job.
"I find I learn a lot more getting out of the office than sitting behind my desk reading papers," Mr. Bond said.
In addition to expanding geographically, Mr. Bond has made other changes. He put all the company's units under the name HSBC rather than retain their historic names, such as Marine Midland Banks in New York, and the parent company's own former name, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. He also plans to list HSBC's shares in U.S. dollars.
The name was unified for all HSBC units, because "we were spending the first 10 minutes with new customers just explaining who we were, before we began to discuss business," Mr. Bond said in an interview at the bank's North American headquarters in Buffalo, overlooking Lake Erie.
"Having a litany of names proved to be more of a handicap than an advantage," he added.
Later this year HSBC will begin listing its shares in U.S. dollars-a move that Mr. Bond believes will boost U.S. investor demand.
The shares, currently traded on the Hong Kong and London exchanges in the local currencies, would also be traded in New York in the form of American depositary receipts. Board approval of the capital restructuring is expected May 28, a spokeswoman said.
Mr. Bond also said HSBC is shifting to a product-oriented strategy and away from a geographical one, because a product-based approach is better suited to the demands of an increasingly global market. In fact, a key reason HSBC is buying Republic is to obtain its global private banking business.
Analysts said the bank is showing far greater attention to investors. And it appears that it is becoming less the domain of white men. "You're starting to see Asians and women showing up for the first time in the management cadres," Mr. Leonard noted.
Some analysts say Mr. Bond has little choice but to change the bank. "Like or not, he's being pushed along, because he's running a very different and bigger bank than the one that existed when Willy Purves ruled the roost in Hong Kong," said Peter Thorne, a banking analyst with Paribas Group in London.
Before Monday's announcement, Mr. Bond insisted he is not changing the bank's "institutional values."
Some observers see it differently. They say the change is striking, even in the way Mr. Bond presents himself. He's a bit of a dandy, they say, with a penchant for chalk-striped suits topped by bright red company ties and light blue shirts with white collars.
"He's one of the nattier dressers in the executive suite," said John Leonard, a London-based analyst with Salomon Smith Barney, the investment banking unit of Citigroup. "He's also much more outgoing than his predecessor."
Mr. Bond still shares a lot with his mentor, Sir William, in both his outlook and inherent caution.
"Both are poker players," Mr. Leonard said.
"They both think carefully before saying anything, reserving their real thoughts to themselves."
Born in Oxford in July 1941 after his family was evacuated from southern England to avoid German bombs, Mr. Bond followed the classic HSBC route into management, joining the bank in 1961 and then spending the next 25 years at various postings around Asia.
He is the first top executive at HSBC who is intimately familiar with the United States. Between 1959 and 1960 he was an exchange student at Santa Barbara High School in California, and between 1987 and 1988 he helped Hongkong & Shanghai Bank complete the acquisition of Marine Midland Banks Inc. Then, between 1991 and 1992 he served as president and chief executive of U.S. operations, based in Buffalo.
Mr. Bond contrasts the sharp change in the U.S. economic environment between the recession of the early 1990s, when he was sent from London to clean up hundreds of millions of dollars in problem loans at Marine Midland, and the present era, when HSBC's U.S. operations rank among the most profitable in the country, with a 23.2% return on equity last year.
"America was moving through an extremely difficult period when I was in Buffalo, and people were asking a lot of questions," he said. "Today, it's become the most economically dynamic country in the world."
Mr. Bond's accession completes more than a decade of change that has transformed HSBC from a Hong Kong-based bank founded in 1865 into a London- based global institution with large consumer and commercial operations. Another advantage, he added, is time to think.
"I need to spend time thinking," Mr. Bond said.
"If you're not careful, you can easily get trapped in doing, not thinking."