IT was just as the sheen of the Asian miracle began to cloud over in October, revealing something altogether less marvellous, that the announcement came: after 43 years with the group, HSBC Holdings chairman Sir William Purves had opted for retirement. On Friday, Sir William's stellar rise through the ranks of 'The Bank' will give way to more frequent rounds of golf, angling and good causes. The mantle of chairman passes on to group chief executive John Bond. Analysts believe Sir William will be a hard act to follow. His was a tenure that started out as a humble clerk and ended with a 12-year stint at head of the mighty behemoth, the rise of which he largely engineered. He took the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp to the rest of Asia. An assault on North America followed, with the purchase of Lloyds Bank of Canada and then on to Britain, where it acquired high-street bank Midland and completed the purchase of stockbroker James Capel. More recently, the group ventured into Latin America, where it acquired a major stake in Brazil's Banco Bamerindus and a smaller stake in Chile's Banco Santiago. But it was, for Sir William, the bitter-sweet purchase of Midland Bank that was to uproot him from his beloved Hong Kong and transplant him back to Britain almost five years ago - a move that was undisputedly wrenching for him to make. His love affair with the then British territory at the bank began in 1955, after he left a job at the National Bank of Scotland. After 15 years he began to claw his way up the ladder with a promotion to the post of chief accountant. He became Tokyo manager in 1974, senior manager overseas in 1976, assistant general manager, overseas operations, in 1978, general manager, international in 1979, and executive director in 1982. The chairman's post came his way in 1986 following the resignation of Sir Michael Sandberg, who had begun to set the bank on the road to becoming a global player. His first significant task was the clean-up operation following the crash of the Carrian Group with debts of US$1.2 billion. Hongkong Bank's exposure was $160 million. Mr Bond's equally, or maybe more difficult, challenge will be dealing with the aftermath of the regional crisis. On Tuesday, Sir William will pay his last trip to Hong Kong in his present capacity, when he attends a gala dinner in his honour, hosted by the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, which he co-founded in 1990. The Asia Society, expects to fill the ballroom at the Marriott Hotel, which can seat up to 70 tables of 12 diners. While the contents of his after dinner speech are not yet known, what has been revealed is the title: 'Made in Hong Kong - Some reflections by Sir William Purves'. A tribute to the entrepreneurial millionaires the bank has helped make, what Hong Kong did for Sir William, or otherwise? It would not be too surprising if Sir William found himself repeating a line or two from his last speech to a most well-attended Asia Society dinner on September 22, 1993, shortly before his departure to his new London headquarters. 'I would like to talk about the future because we face, not for the first time in Hong Kong, some uncertainties,' he said. 'And I would like to talk about Hong Kong's resilience - about its ability to bounce back time and again in the most difficult of circumstances.' In 1993, the uncertainties Sir William was referring to were those concerning the handover. 'Just what the future will bring preoccupies a good many people in Hong Kong today, but the future will always preoccupy the people lucky enough to live here. 'We should also acknowledge that Hong Kong has survived crisis after crisis. I remain confident of the territory's ability to cope with the challenges leading up to the transition of 1997 - and beyond.' Loyal Asia Society members will no doubt be hoping for a sign that the outgoing boss of Hong Kong's biggest financial institution has not lost that brazen confidence, just when it is most in need . . . again.