Banker praises ex-HSBC chief

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 November, 2009, 12:00am

Leaders of the city's banking world said goodbye to former HSBC chief John Gray at a service at St John's Cathedral in Central yesterday.

Gray, who during his time as chief of the Asian arm of HSBC in the 1990s was among the most popular and recognisable corporate figures in the region, died at the age of 75.

Current chairman Vincent Cheng Hoi-chuen described Gray as a great and loyal friend.

'Everyone he worked with he treated with the utmost respect and care,' Cheng said in his eulogy. 'He never looked for any credit for himself, but instead would rather give the credit to his team and co-workers. He was a very dear friend.'

Cheng also spoke of Gray's great sense of humour. 'At a lunch with some younger colleagues, one of the more naive members there asked him what he did,' he said. 'He said he was a number cruncher. When it was pointed out by another that his job was much more important than that, he replied: 'Oh yes, I'm the chief number cruncher.' He was a very friendly, approachable man.'

Born in Hong Kong in 1934, the son of a Hongkong Bank executive and the great-nephew of another, Gray owed his start at the bank to his father, Samuel.

Just after the second world war, his father returned from Chongqing , the Kuomintang capital of China during the occupation, to reopen the branch in Shanghai after Japan's surrender. Gray joined the bank after completing his service with Britain's Royal Air Force in 1952.

He was sent to Hamburg, Germany, before being posted to Hong Kong, India and Malaysia.

Gray told the South China Morning Post in 1993: 'My father suggested that a good way to get a job in the Far East would be to join a Far Eastern bank. I suppose you could say that nepotism got me my start at the bank, but it didn't get me up it.'

This was borne out when he replaced Sir William Purves as HSBC chairman after Purves' departure to London in 1993 to become chairman of parent company HSBC Holdings. He held the position until his retirement in 1996. In the final years of his life, Gray divided his time between Hong Kong and Britain.

Gray was also chairman of the Port Development Board and a non-official Executive Council member. 'He believed that Hong Kong was a city built on old-fashioned values and hard work,' Cheng said. 'He always described himself as a Hong Kong-born Scot and was a lifelong believer in Hong Kong.'

Gray is survived by his wife Ursula, daughters Katrina, Alexandra, Amanda, Nicola and Lettitia, and son Simon.