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Goldman Sachs' new Asia boss has mostly worked outside Asia. Does this matter?

Todd Leland arrived in Asia just 13 months ago, but now finds himself heading up APAC investment banking for the leading IB by revenues in the region this year, Goldman Sachs.

Leland, whose new job was announced in a recent Goldman memo, was originally relocated from London to Hong Kong last September (as co-president for ex-Japan APAC), so he lacks Asian market experience.

Despite his newbie-in-Asia status, however, industry experts say Leland’s appointment by incoming CEO David Solomon makes sense, largely because the American has been at Goldman since 1992 and is an influential player at the firm globally. “Solomon clearly wants his own experienced team in place – people who know GS – and Leland has 26 years with the bank,” says an IB recruiter in Hong Kong who asked not to be named because Goldman is a client.

“GS demands excellence, superb communications skills for global meetings, and the ability to play politics,” says a former senior member of Goldman’s in-house HR team in Asia. “There’s plenty of Asian talent in the wider market that fits that criteria, but if you already have an expat internally like Leland who’s able to step up, there’s little point recruiting from outside.”

Clients in Asia often view a senior expat appointment as a sign of a foreign bank’s commitment to them and to the region, says Benjamin Quinlan, a former UBS and Deutsche banker, now a consultant in Hong Kong. “Leland isn’t an Asian rainmaker, but that doesn’t matter – Goldman has plenty of those. What’s important is that he’s worked in London and New York and is already one of Goldman’s top people globally. In Asia, global experience carries a lot of prestige and gravitas,” he adds.

The fact that Leland is not just an expat but an American is also an advantage, says Quinlan. “This sends a signal to Chinese clients that – despite trade wars – Goldman is committed to doing more cross-border deals between the US and China, because it’s just put one of its leading American bankers in charge of IB in Asia,” he adds.

Leland’s promotion is part of a wider shakeup of Goldman’s management ranks by CEO Solomon. Goldman has named global TMT head Dan Dees as global co-head of investment banking, and announced that Raghav Maliah, who runs APAC TMT, will become global vice-chairman of investment banking. “Solomon is from an investment banking background and he’s appointing loyal lieutenants to help him grow IB here in Asia and globally,” says Quinlan.

The people that Leland is replacing, APAC IB co-heads Andrea Vella and Kate Richdale, are to become co-chairs of the unit and will be more directly involved with clients. “A move to chairman can be seen as a step down as you don’t command P&L or manage people,” says Quinlan. “But they will be looking after client relationships that Goldman doesn’t want to lose.”

Leland is taking over at a time of comparative strength for Goldman’s investment bank in Asia. It ranked first for Asian IB revenue in the first nine months of this year, according to Dealogic. Goldman’s overall revenue in Asia increased 9% year on year to $3.9bn during the same period, although Asia’s share of global income was only 14%, according to its Q3 results.

Goldman Sachs did not respond to a request to comment on Leland’s appointment.

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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