From his final year in high school, Lieven Debruyne, chief executive at Schroder Investment Management in Hong Kong, knew he wanted to work in the finance industry. A dissertation he wrote during his graduation year, looking at the way analysts' forecasts could be used in economic models, helped to secure his first job as an analyst with a New York-based asset management firm. In 1994, Debruyne, who holds a master of science degree in economics from Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands, moved to Hong Kong for the first time to work as a fund manager focusing on Asian equities. During his 41/2-year tenure, Debruyne experienced the boom years and the Asian financial crisis before taking up a position with a boutique emerging-markets firm in Paris. He first joined Schroders in London in 2000 as product manager and head of Asian product sales for Europe. Prior to taking up his present position in February 2008, Debruyne was head of regional sales in Asia-Pacific when he rejoined Schroders in 2005. Before that, he was the managing director and head of Asian products at Deutsche Asset Management. He talks to Chris Davis.
What does your day-to-day work involve?
I effectively have two roles, which are roughly equally divided. As CEO in Hong Kong, I have a management role, responsible for developing business strategies and managing day-to-day operations for the Hong Kong office. I am also head of intermediary distribution for Asia, which means I have a regional role with responsibility for the marketing, sales and distribution of the financial products we sell in eight countries. I spend about half my time travelling, which gives me the opportunity to experience a great deal of cultural diversity.
What do you feel is the most exciting part of your job?
I work in a fascinating industry in a fascinating part of the world where many changes are taking place. I enjoy the intellectual aspects my work involves and the human interaction through meeting and working with people across the region. In many ways, we are helping to develop the Asian financial markets, whether it is savings products for individuals or sophisticated investment solutions for large institutions.
What are the challenges that you face at work?
Coming out of the massive global financial crisis has resulted in significant regulatory changes that provide us with quite a lot of challenges, particularly the type of products we can offer and the way we can offer them. As we work our way through the regulatory processes, we get to work closely with all the relevant parties including regulators, asset management companies and distributors. We have a very strong presence across the region where we only work through intermediaries. We operate in the markets where we want to be, so there are new opportunities opening up.
What are the keys to being an effective leader?
I work in a people-orientated industry; much of what I do is based on relationships. Therefore, I believe a large part of management success is related to how you interact with people. Good leadership also relies on having a strong team to work with. I am very proud of our team, which I believe is best-in-class throughout the business. Similarly, working with clients, in that you have to understand and interact with them and build the relationships.
What is needed to train the next generation?
We need investment in education programmes that help young local people to join the industry. As part of Schroders' 40th anniversary in Hong Kong, we jointly organised a fund product development challenge, with the faculty of business administration at the Chinese University. The competition challenged students to develop investment fund prototypes that focus on careful risk management, while generating steady returns over a minimum five-year investment horizon.
The first prize included an internship with Schroders and a visit to our head office in London. As a company, we are also expanding our relationships with universities across Asia on programmes that involve graduate recruitment. We are keen on developing long-term partnerships with universities that help to widen and strengthen the financial talent pool.
Which books have most influenced your outlook on life?
In my spare time, I try not to read too much about the finance industry. I like reading about history and biographies, I also read the weekend edition of the International Herald Tribune.
What advice do you have for young people?
In addition to a strong academic background, commitment and a passion for financial markets are two absolute necessities. Without these two attributes, it is very difficult to remain motivated.
What are Schroders' corporate targets in the next few years?
We are strengthening our institutional team to better position ourselves for anticipated long-term growth across the firm and Asia is very much part of this strategy. We have been Hong Kong for 40 years and continue to invest in our products and people. Through links with education, we are able to celebrate and acknowledge our success by nurturing Hong Kong’s future investment professionals. At the same time, across Asia, we are proud of our emphasis on recruiting talent locally and aim to continue to remain an employer of choice.