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Welshman You Can Bank on to Spread the Word; Business PROFILE - Chief Executive Merfyn Davies Tells David Jones How He Keeps the Welsh Language Alive Even When Banking in Hong Kong

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), March 12, 2003 | Go to article overview

Welshman You Can Bank on to Spread the Word; Business PROFILE - Chief Executive Merfyn Davies Tells David Jones How He Keeps the Welsh Language Alive Even When Banking in Hong Kong


Byline: David Jones

MERVYN Davies believes he may well have inherited a desire to travel the world from a fore bear who sailed the oceans. In any event,his chosen profession of banking has taken him to practically every corner of the globe,and his job as group chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank still takes him out of the UK for about 10 days every month.

But wherever he goes,fluent Welsh speaker Davies makes no secret of his pride in his Welsh roots. He spent years working for the bank in Hong Kong, and would often preface his speeches at business dinners with a few words in Welsh.

The former colony had a small,ex-pat Welsh community but Davies says he used to bump into fellow Welshmen and women in the strangest of places.

``I have met Welsh speakers in the most unusual of places,including right in the middle of China at a place called Chengdu. I was buying some antiques at a night market there and was arguing with the stall holder. I was speaking in Welsh and the trader was speaking in Chinese when somebody came up behind me and spoke in Welsh.''

Standard Chartered was one of three banks in Hong Kong - the others being HSBC and Bank of China - allowed to issue bank notes . Davies never checked whether he was the first Welshman to sign Hong Kong banknotes - he kept a few as souvenirs when he returned to the UK 14 months ago - but he knows he is the first Welshman who has held the post of chief executive with the group.

He has reached the very top of Standard Chartered in only 10 years with the company, a good example if one were needed,of a North Walian getting to the pinnacle of his profession.

Standard Chartered may not be as well known to the general public as the UK's big high street banks,but it is the 22nd largest company in the UK and well known to City investors.

The reason for its comparatively low profile at home is that nearly 90pc of its business is conducted outside the UK, two-thirds of it in Asia. It has operations in more than 50 countries and employs more than 30,000 staff,many of them Chinese.

The bank was founded 150 years ago by Scotsman James Wilson. Its first two branches were in Calcutta and Shanghai. The China-based Chartered Bank later merged with the Standard Bank of Africa to become the present global operation with its shares listed on the London and Hong Kong stock exchanges.

Hong Kong, where Davies served during the time the territory was being handed back to China,provided about one third of the bank's $1.26bn profit last year.

Acquisition of Grindlays recently made Standard Chartered the biggest bank in countries like Bangladesh,Sri Lanka and UAE. About 10pc of its business is in Africa. In India it has branches in 25 cities and almost 2.5mcustomers. Indeed, it is the sub-continent and China that Davies singles out as the markets with the greatest potential. He believes both are future economic powerhouses and both are central to the bank's growth strategy.

``The Indian economy is growing at about 5.5pcGDP a year and we aim to be the biggest bank in India,''he says.

``We think China is going to be the biggest economy in the world within the next 10 to 20 years. It is growing at about 8.5pca year. We have just taken a small stake ($50m) in the government owned bank of China. I used to go to China every week and I still go about 10 times a year.

``It is a huge market with great opportunities for British companies like ourselves. We have been in that market for nearly 147 years. Our name is well known in China and we have a lot of local management which is key to success. We have just opened our first retail branches in Shanghai and Shenzen - we already had 15 corporate banking branches.''

Davies says the fact that Standard Chartered has always shown itself as being committed to Hong Kong, and never considered pulling out when the Chinese took over, has also counted strongly in its favour.

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