Renaissance under way at James Capel Asia

JAMES Capel in Hong Kong is experiencing something of a renaissance with a new brand-name and new management team led by a new chief, Philip Gray, who was formerly GT Management Asia's managing director.

Under the new banner, James Capel Asia, formed in January this year, has been undergoing one of the biggest overhauls ever conducted in Hong Kong.

For Mr Gray, who was 15 years at GT, his appointment as executive chairman at James Capel Asia was something of a full-circle, because his early career was with James Capel in London between 1972 and 1976.

A board member of James Capel and Co, Mr Gray has been given the task of revitalising the brokerage's corporate fortunes and profile in the Asia-Pacific region.

James Capel (Far East) came to the territory in 1973.

The name has suffered mixed fortunes and the acquisition of the parent by Hongkong Bank in 1986, in the heady and somewhat misguided days of the City's Big Bang, did not really improve things.

The late 1980s saw the group fall on rocky ground in terms of profitability, and there was a fall from grace in terms of research brokerage rankings by 1991.

In Hong Kong, there was a merger of James Capel (Far East) and Wardley Thompson, creating Wardley James Capel (Far East), whose coming into being was more of a bankers view of a convenient compromise than a brokers view of a credible profit centre.

The marriage of these highly different businesses ended with the formation of James Capel Asia, which employed 186 people throughout the region and was responsible for Asian product sales around the world through major sales desks in London, New York and Tokyo.

The Asian offices were located in Bangkok, Bombay, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Taipei and Manila, where the group's exchange seat has been re-activated.

In Singapore, the group had a 34 per cent stake in a venture which employed 240 people and had about nine per cent stock market share.

Mr Gray said: 'During the first six months, management activity has been primarily concerned with the rebuilding of the financial control, settlement and compliance departments following the de-merger.' The final phase was in June with the transfer of four floor seats to James Capel Floor Brokers, resulting in the emergence of James Capel Asia as a self-contained unit.

Mr Gray's team consisted of Steve Hoffman as finance director; Paul Hedley as compliance officer; Citibank's Adrian Lau as head of settlements; William Yue as financial controller; and from Barings, David Robinson as regional investment strategist.

With a considerable proportion of his career devoted to fund management, Mr Gray's most immediate impact on the brokerage unit has been in the way it tries to communicate with fund managers.

A new stronger corporate style has been brought to the issue of research.

'All research goes by me at present and unless it gets to the point within one minute of reading it has to go back to the analyst,' said Mr Gray.

The entire research product range has been turned upside down, with the emphasis on easy-to-read work combined with large numbers of graphics and ratio comparison tables intended to stir investor imagination and initiate investment ideas.

Senior figures in the research team included Anne Gardini, formerly of WI Carr, in Hong Kong research; Chris Edwards, formerly of Salomons, in quantitative analysis; and on the sales side Rory McAllister, formerly of HG Asia.

Under the new regime, Mr Gray said: 'There is a very heavy emphasis on corporate culture.