Erudite and eloquent Stuart Gulliver seems more Oxford don than brash banker. But his formidable intellect and ability to master the complex minutiae of everything from derivatives to foreign-exchange swaps have made the 45-year-old one of the most powerful players at one of the world's biggest banks, Britain's HSBC Holdings PLC. During the 1990s, Gulliver turned HSBC's Asian markets business into one of the group's major money-spinners. Under his watch, profits grew at a compound annual rate of 20%, even in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. "He has built what is globally a top-five markets business from a niche regional player," says HSBC's CFO, Douglas J. Flint.
That impressive track record led to Gulliver's appointment as co-head of corporate, investment banking, and markets in 2003. Together with former Morgan Stanley rainmaker John J. Studzinski, Gulliver has been charged with making HSBC a leading player in investment banking and capital markets. "The goal is to try and transport some of the success in Asia to other places, such as Europe and the U.S.," Gulliver says.
The consummate HSBC insider, Gulliver's career spans 25 years and five countries. An avid boxer while at Oxford, where he studied law, Gulliver joined the bank's elite international officer program, as it was called at the time, in 1980. Gulliver was thrilled at the prospect of an overseas career. "It meant being internationally mobile and available to move around the group's operations 24/7," says the peripatetic executive. Now in London at HSBC's headquarters in Canary Wharf, Gulliver is still frequently on the road, meeting with clients, staff, or even the occasional head of state. He recently visited the Philippines to discuss fiscal policy with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Personable and driven, Gulliver is often touted as a possible successor to CEO Stephen K. Green. As head of the global markets business, which spans foreign exchange, fixed income, derivatives, syndicated loans, structured credit, futures trading, and several other areas, he was directly responsible for more than two-thirds of the $5.2 billion in profits his overall division made in 2004. Colleagues say his ability to assess and manage risk is second to none. "He can quickly calculate the risk of any transaction in his head," says Studzinski. These days, Gulliver is spending more time in the U.S., where HSBC is building an investment bank from scratch. It's a strategy many other foreign banks have tried and failed. If Gulliver's past is prelude, HSBC may be one of the few to succeed.
By Kerry Capell