Eleven years ago, Michal J. Hendrych slipped out of Czechoslovakia with a suitcase and $140 in his pocket.

Last month, the gamble paid off handsomely when Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce appointed him managing director of its newly established U.S. trade finance group.

"Customers are asking for trade finance," said the 43-year-old Czech emigre. "The bank figured that since they were already handling $2.6 billion of trade finance business out of Toronto, why not do the same business out of New York?"

Canadian Imperial is the second major bank that recently expanded its trade finance activities. Bank of Boston last month established a separate senior management position for trade finance as part of a plan to raise annual trade-related revenues by 15%.

Part of a Reorganization

Canadian Imperial's move into U.S. trade finance comes amid a broader reorganization. Canada's second-largest bank recently merged its corporate and investment banking operations into a single division under John Hunkin, president.

In a related move, Canadian Imperial combined its U.S., Canadian, and Mexican corporate business into a single North American unit headed by executive vice president Allyn Keiser, who formerly headed U.S. corporate banking.

"America is both more competitive and becoming more dependent on capital goods exports," mr. Hendrych said. "U.S. corporations have a greater need for trade finance because it has a direct impact on their ability to sell abroad."

Mr. Hendrych reports to the Toronto bank's New York-based corporate finance unit. He will also work closely with the headquarters trade finance unit.

The U.S. trade finance group he is launching will specialize in deal between the U.S. companies and overseas buyers of capital goods such as machine tools, construction, transportation and medical equipment, and heavy duty electronic equipment, including computers.

He will also focus on helping customers structure their trade financings to reduce or eliminate country exposure and manage their balance sheets.

"People say they are afraid to do business with Brazil because of the country risk, but what they don't understand is that they might be dealing with a U.S. multinational whose operations have a direct impact on improving Brazil's foreign exchange earnings and the country's ability to repay its borrowings," the banker said.

"It can get awfully confusing but the key to measuring the real risk is knowing who you are ultimately dealing with."

Began Career in Homeland

Born in Prague, Mr. Hendrych began his career handling trade finance and countertrade transactions at a Czechoslovak state-owned merchant bank.

After arriving in the United States, he spent six months with a friend before getting a job with J. Henry Schroder Bank and Trust Co,. New York.

In 1984, he helped set up Security Pacific Corp.'s trade finance subsidiary in New York, serving as president and chief executive until the unit was acquired last year by Westdeutsche Landesbank of Germany.

Mr. Hendrych, who divides his time between working in Manhattan and a weekend home in the Catskills, has yet to revisit his former homeland. "It's much more interesting here," he said.

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