Putting a price on passion for top fund managers

Lieven Debruyne says passion for fund management is what he looks for when hiring at Schroders in Hong Kong, where he is chief executive

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 2:36am

A background in fund management could help you when it comes to managing a fund company, but the most important trait is to have a "real passion" for the industry, says Lieven Debruyne, the newly elected chairman of the Hong Kong Investment Funds Association trade group.

Debruyne, who is also chief executive of British fund house Schroder Investment Management (Hong Kong), believes having a sound strategy and a clear focus are the keys to managing a fund company.

Born in Belgium, he grew up in the Belgian city of Bruges and later in the Netherlands. After studying economics at university, he began his career as an analyst in New York at the investment company MeesPierson Capital Management in 1993.

A year later, in 1994, he shifted to become a fund manager in Hong Kong until 1998. During those years, he witnessed boom years in Asia, and then the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 1998. He left Hong Kong to work in Paris and London, where he joined Schroders in 2000 and then returned to Hong Kong in 2005.

In an interview with the Post, Debruyne talks about what it takes to manage and staff a fund company and how the industry has changed in Hong Kong since he first arrived on the scene 18 years ago.


What are the keys to successfully running a fund management company?

Like all good businesses, it needs good management. It needs very good strategy and a clear focus with a strong team of people who have great passion for the industry.


How do you build a team?

First, the organisation needs to invest in talent. The company needs to find the right talent and grow those people into senior positions within the company. Second, [the organisation] needs to build up a reputation and culture that people are proud of so people will want to join. At Schroders, we are proud of our culture.

Third, we have done our recruitment graduates' trainee programmes for many years in the UK and we have brought this to Asia in recent years. Under the programmes, we recruit graduate trainees directly from university. This is intended to actively identify talent at an early age. They will join different parts of the business to learn the culture of the company. Asia is an important market for Schroders. We directly recruit people from the universities in mainland China and across the region. The strong brand of Schroders helps us to get the best university students to join.


Who is suitable to work in the fund management industry?

It needs people who are passionate about the business of finance. We want people who are ambitious and hard-working and who want a career and to be successful.


How do you reward the best performers, and how do you handle staff who perform poorly?

We give financial rewards to people who perform well. For those who are not performing as desired, we need to be clear and honest with them, to have a good communication with them to help them solve the problem. If that still does not work, we may need to make a decision to try to encourage them to do something else. It is not easy to make such decisions, but if you are honest and clear about it, it is not that difficult.

However, as Schroders is very keen on having the right person in the right position in the first place, our turnover is extremely low when compared with the market average.


What is your own management style?

I like to let people in my team take responsibility. I like to let my team members execute the job.


What do you do when you lose your clients' money?

Thank God, it does not happen often. But it does happen. The most important thing is to understand what is the cause of the loss, and make sure you learn from the situation to avoid that happening. Once you lose the clients, it is hard to win them back - but it is not impossible.


Do you think the Hong Kong fund industry has changed since 1994 when you first arrived in the city?

Yes, the Hong Kong fund industry has changed a lot in that it has become much bigger, much more professional and much more in line with international standards. Overall, the market has changed a lot for the positive. There are more investors who like to invest in fund products nowadays than when I first arrived. The sales channels also have become more diversified and we see more banks selling fund products now.


How do you relax?

A disadvantage of my job is the long hours that I have to stay in the office and the travel for business reasons. I need to make sure I do physical exercise, including a lot of running and cycling over a long distance. I like to take the dog early in the morning and go for a run.


You have recently acquired permanent residency status in Hong Kong. What do you like the most and the least about this city?

I have worked in New York, Paris and London and they are all fantastic cities, but Hong Kong is unique in many ways. For me, it is my home. Hong Kong is a combination of high energy, a great work environment, particularly for international finance, and the ability to be outdoors.