Putting the ICBC brand on the Euro­pean map

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG - By EVE­LYN YU in Hong Kong eve­lyn@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Banker Gao Ming is widely cred­ited with hav­ing put ICBC (Asia) on the Euro­pean map, hav­ing played an in­stru­men­tal role in steer­ing the lender back on a sound track in the af­ter­math of one of the most stun­ning fi­nan­cial crises to en­gulf the Euro­pean con­ti­nent.

Be­fore tak­ing the helm as chair­woman of ICBC (Asia), she was with ICBC (Europe) over an eight-year span from 2007 to 2015, right af­ter the Euro­pean debt cri­sis which saw some of the wealth­i­est Euro­pean na­tions mired in eco­nomic malaise.

Gao’s stint in Europe started off with a small pres­ence of only one ICBC of­fice in Lux­em­bourg. Un­der her lead­er­ship, the bank quickly ex­panded its foot­print in the new mar­ket, cul­mi­nat­ing in the open­ing of five of­fices across Europe within a week in 2011 — in France, Bel­gium, Hol­land, Italy and Spain.

“The whole of Europe was then clouded by anx­i­ety and un­cer­tain­ties and we brought con­fi­dence to the lo­cal with the launch of five of­fices in a week,” re­calls Gao.

“Ev­ery cloud does have a sil­ver lin­ing,” she pro­fesses, point­ing to the fact that amid the debt cri­sis, ma­jor Euro­pean banks were se­ri­ously af­fected, while some big lo­cal en­ter­prises which, none­the­less, were less af­fected. “But, we took the op­por­tu­nity and pro­vided the fi­nanc­ing needed by these en­ter­prises.”

Sparked by the US sub­prime mort­gage cri­sis, the Euro­pean debt cat­a­clysm erupted in late 2009 with mul­ti­ple Euro­pean coun­tries, in­clud­ing Greece, Spain, Ire­land, Por­tu­gal and Cyprus, de­fault­ing on gov­ern­ment debt pay­ments and deal­ing a hard hit on lo­cal banks.

When Gao be­gan her stint with ICBC (Europe) in 2007, to­tal as­sets amounted to 100 mil­lion euros. It saw ex­plo­sive growth of up to 25 bil­lion euros by the time she left the of­fice in 2015. It also ex­panded from one of­fice in Lux­em­bourg to 15 en­ti­ties, cov­er­ing nine coun­tries across the re­gion.

The “Lux­em­bourg model”, which was used to ex­tend the bank’s op­er­a­tions to Euro­pean coun­tries us­ing Lux­em­bourg as the gate­way, was quickly adopted by other Chi­nese com­mer­cial banks. “Af­ter us, there were seven or eight Chi­nese com­mer­cial banks which set up of­fices in Lux­em­bourg be­fore ven­tur­ing into other mar­kets,” says Gao.

Closer to home, she says the par­ent com­pany took a dual list­ing in Shang­hai and Hong Kong in 2006. It was then the big­gest ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing on the Hong Kong bourse. “The flota­tion worked well for our brand­ing and we soon earned the trust of lo­cal clients. The strength­en­ing of the yuan then also lifted our eco­nomic strengths.”

Since 1989, Gao has amassed more than 28 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing for ICBC.

“I started work­ing for ICBC in its in­ter­na­tional busi­ness di­vi­sion. The past decades have seen the bank ex­pand rapidly on a global scale, bring­ing new chal­lenges each year. I’ve gained a lot from the in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure and I hope my em­ploy­ees can reap the same ben­e­fits.”

To nur­ture young tal­ents, Gao says she would try to give them proper in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure to help them as­cend the ca­reer lad­der.

“We hope ICBC can serve as a grand stage for each of our em­ploy­ees to grow.”

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