International -- The Stars of Europe -- Empire Builders
John Bond (int'l edition)
Chairman -- HSBC Holdings -- Britain
He answers his own phone and shuns taxis in favor of the London Underground. John R.H. Bond must be one of Europe's most frugal bankers. The chairman of Britain's HSBC Holdings earns an annual salary of $1.1 million--far less than many of his peers and not even the highest at his own institution. By setting an example, Bond is furthering his goal of building the globe's most profitable bank.
Not that Bond won't spend money. The quiet 59-year-old has been snapping up banks ever since taking the top job two years ago. The most recent acquisition was Credit Commercial de France, for $10.5 billion. Bond is building an empire spanning consumer banking, asset management, corporate banking, and insurance in 22 countries. But the 39-year veteran of the bank insists that "size has never been the primary goal of HSBC; it's the return we get on shareholders' funds that's important." Last year, the bank's aftertax profit jumped 25%, to $5.4 billion, on assets of $569 billion, making HSBC second only to Citigroup in terms of profitability.
Bond wants to keep it that way. Colleagues describe him as extremely tenacious. He left his native Britain at 18, finishing high school through an exchange program in Santa Barbara, Calif. He skipped college to take a job on cargo ships traveling from California to Hong Kong, where he landed his first HSBC job. He did everything at the beginning, including delivering traveler's checks to Thailand's royal family on bended knee. He transferred to the U.S. in the 1980s, where he turned around HSBC's ailing Marine Midland Bank. He was named HSBC's group CEO in 1993 before becoming chairman.
These days, Bond spends the little free time he has with his wife, three children, and English bull terrier, Gus. Now back in London for several years, Bond admits that he still feels wanderlust now and again. If he keeps expanding HSBC's global reach, that shouldn't be too hard to cure.