Top UBS banker Zhao Ju takes sabbatical for Harvard politics course
Zhao Ju's sabbatical seen as effort to prepare him to take a prominent government position
A top banker for UBS in China has decided to take a year off to study politics and public administration at Harvard University in a move seen as a bid to prepare him to join the Chinese government, which is keen to attract talent to help Beijing regulate and develop its red-hot financial industry.
Zhao Ju, China co-head for the Swiss bank, will take a sabbatical of up to 12 months from the end of this year to become a visiting fellow at the university's prestigious John F. Kennedy School of Government, according to two sources close to Zhao.
Zhao's move surprised many of his fellow bankers in Hong Kong, in particular his preference to study politics rather than financial and economic subjects given his deep experience in the banking industry.
One of the sources said senior officials in Beijing had tipped Zhao to return to China to take an important position after he completed his studies at Harvard.
"There is nothing solid, but there must be some tips for him from Beijing. Zhao is originally from the 'system' and he is a very ambitious person so he also wants to get back to the 'system' at some point to make bigger achievements in his career," the source said.
The "system" can refer to important government departments or major state-owned enterprises.
During Zhao's leave, his colleague Wei Cai will remain as China co-head for UBS, based in Hong Kong. A spokeswoman for UBS in Hong Kong declined to comment on the matter. Zhao was not immediately available for comment.
Although Zhao has the option to return to UBS after he completes his sabbatical, it is more likely he will follow the career path of another former senior Chinese banking executive and "serve the motherland", said one source, referring to Zhang Hongli, former China chairman for Deutsche Bank. He later joined Beijing-headquartered Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, one of the mainland's Big Four state-owned banks, as senior executive vice-president to play a key role in its senior management committee.
"That's certainly the way Zhao will go too. Otherwise, why bother going to study at Harvard for a year and then come back to UBS to continue your current job?" said the source. "He certainly wants to make a difference, like Zhang."
Given Zhao's background, he may fit senior roles at various financial institutions such as the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the mainland's stock market watchdog, or one of the Big Four banks, said the sources. But any such important appointments would be subject to scrutiny by top leaders on the State Council, China's cabinet.
For UBS, Zhao has been one of the most senior bankers in Asia for years.
He helped to launch UBS's Beijing-based investment banking joint venture and was also involved in many high- profile deals including mega listings for PetroChina, New China Life, and other major mainland state-owned enterprises.
Before joining UBS, Zhao was the head of investment banking at Galaxy Securities.