Nazir Razak has a sterling pedigree. His father was Malaysia's second prime minister, and his brother is deputy prime minister and finance minister. But in his youth, Razak never spent much time among Malaysia's elite. His father, Abdul Razak, died when Razak was only nine years old, and he was shipped off to boarding school in England at 13. "After that, my privileged lifestyle went out the window," says Razak.
Today, Razak is as prominent as anyone in Malaysia -- not in politics, but in finance. He spent a total of more than a decade in Britain, earning a degree in political science and economics at the University of Bristol, and then a master's in economic development at Cambridge. Upon graduation he returned to Malaysia and joined Commerce International Merchant Bankers, taking an entry-level position in its corporate finance department. Razak climbed CIMB's corporate ranks, earning kudos when in 1992 he led the team that took power-generation company Tenaga Nasional public, in Malaysia's largest-ever initial public offering, raising $1.2 billion. He has been CEO of CIMB since 1999.
Under Razak's stewardship, CIMB has become Malaysia's premier investment bank. Early on, he expanded the bank's range of services, introducing bond underwriting and secondary bond trading, pioneering them in Malaysia. CIMB was the only one of 52 financial institutions that didn't need a bailout after the Asia crisis. "When his guys go against the local competition they clean up," says Stephen Hagger, head of research at Credit Suisse First Boston (CSR ) in Kuala Lumpur.
Last year, CIMB accounted for 56% of all mergers-and-acquisitions activity in Malaysia by value and 75% of all initial public offerings, raising more than $2 billion in IPOs alone. Razak took the company public in January, 2003 -- making CIMB the first Malaysian investment bank to list its shares. Since then, its market capitalization has more than tripled, from $395 million to $1.26 billion. Now, Razak has ambitions beyond Malaysia; last year, CIMB bought 51% of Niaga Sekuritas in Indonesia, and the bank has plans to expand its Islamic banking clientele in the Middle East as well.
Razak, 37, says he tries to emulate U.S. investment-bank management styles. He was one of the first managers in Malaysia to reward successful staffers with fat yearend bonuses. (His own reward: 38 million CIMB shares, or 4.4%, worth $55 million.) That means working New York-style hours, too. "CIMB has a reputation for being a very hard place to work," he concedes. But those long days are paying off.