JAMES LEE Managing director Chemical Bank, New York
James Lee, loan syndications czar at Chemical Banking Corp., traces the origins of his banking career to his wife's squash game.
The year was 1975. The future Mrs. Lee - then a senior at Williams College - had a big tournament on the same day she was scheduled to meet with campus recruiters from Chemical.
"She gave me her interview slot, and the rest is history," recalls her husband and Williams classmate.
They married in 1981 and live in Darien, Conn., with thier three children, ages nine, seven, and one.
After a series of assignments abroad in the early years of his career, Mr. Lee, at 39, has risen into an important senior post at Chemical. He reports to Mark Solow, a member of the management committee at the recently merged institution.
As managing director in charge of syndications, private placements, and acquisition finance, Mr. Lee oversees a staff of a bout 125. A big part of his job is shepherding Chemical-led credits through the loan sales market.
Mr. Lee's aggressive tactics have won a lot of underwriting assignments for Chemical, making it a market leader. In the process, though, Chemical and Mr. Lee have antagonized some competitors. A frequent complaint is that Chemical underprices high-quality credits when it vies against other for the role of agent bank.
Mr. Lee does not take teh criticism lightly. He knows Chemical cannot retain its leadership role if other banks refuse to join Chemical-led syndicates.
At the same time, he is not shy about defying conventional market wisdom when it comes to underwriting complex credits or pricing deals. As a result, staying on top in the loan syndication business is a constant juggling act.
"You have to combine all the sensitivities of a good relationship banker witht he sometimes conflicting qualities of leadership," says Mr. Lee.
In managing his own career, Mr. Lee takes a day-by-day approach. "I never think about my next job," he says. But would he like to land in the executive suite some day? Sure.
Says he, "I think it would be furn to run a bank."