After working in the fund industry for three decades, Blair Pickerell has decided to quit and take on a new role - to help promote corporate governance and enhance shareholder protection. Pickerell first joined the industry in 1984 and has worked at JF, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and most recently at Nikko as its Asia chairman. He became one of the youngest chief executives of any fund house when he headed JF Taiwan when he was 28, and went on to break many fund sales records in his 30-year career. On turning 58 this year, Pickerell decided he has had enough of setting sales targets and appraising hundreds of staff every year. He is now an independent director for Hong Kong and international companies, including the US Principal Financial Group and Dah Sing Financial Holdings. "I believe in the role of the independent director who can help the management make better corporate development decisions and to promote corporate governance practices. By taking such a role, I would focus on bigger-picture matters," Pickerell said. "After working as a full-time executive for 30 years to do all the sales targets, company budget and appraisals, I think it is time for me to opt for a change." He said an international firm such as Principal, which has operations around the world including many Asian markets such as Hong Kong and China, would benefit from having a diverse board of directors. "It would need directors of different skill sets to form a diverse board," he said. "It needs people who understand regulation, accountancy, product development and marketing to run a financial firm. "For international companies, they would need people from different parts of the world to contribute to the board." Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing in 2013 introduced a rule requiring companies to have a balanced board composition that would include people from different genders, background and skill sets. Companies which failed to do so must explain why. Pickerell supported the idea of a balanced board; he thinks independent directors can help appoint more people from outside the company to add checks and balances to the board. HKEx requires companies to have at least three independent directors who must represent a third of the board. Besides a director's role, Pickerell is also keen on working for regulators. He is a member of the HKEx listing committee, which vets firms applying to list on the stock exchange. He also advises India's securities regulator. "I think my 30 years of experience in the fund industry can help a lot [and be shared] with regulators and others to improve our markets," Pickerell said. Born and raised in California, Pickerell joined British conglomerate Jardine Matheson as a management trainee in 1984 after he got a master's degree in business administration at Harvard. In 1985, he was sent to Taiwan to set up a fund company for fund arm JF because he speaks fluent Putonghua and knows the island well. At university, he had spent three months in Taiwan and sat in class with small children to prove he could effectively learn a foreign language. He can deliver a speech in Putonghua and has passed the China Securities Regulatory Commission licence examination conducted in Chinese. Pickerell has made Hong Kong his home after Taiwan and was eventually made chairman of JF Funds. He stayed at Jardine Matheson and JF for 18 years. He recalled the most interesting fund sale was in 1993 when some JF staff wanted to set up an internal fund to invest in companies being listed in Pakistan. Some investors learned about the fund and remitted US$45 million to JF in one afternoon even though the company had no plan for a Pakistani fund. "We could not return the money so we sought the Securities and Futures Commission's approval to use the sum as a fund and invest in Pakistani IPOs," he said. "We raised one of the largest sums of money in a fund we did not intend to launch. "When I first joined the fund industry in 1985, no one would ever imagine the Chinese will be the largest investors worldwide. "There were no mutual funds in the mainland. But now, we have the stock market connect between Hong Kong and Shanghai and later, Shenzhen." Peoples' interest in buying fund products also increased with time. In 2001, when China allowed the first foreign fund offered by JF to be sold in the mainland, 30,000 investors lined up outside Bank of Communications branches to buy the products. What is unchanged though is the behaviour of investors. "Asian investors including those in Hong Kong tend to chase short-term gains and do not have a diversified portfolio," Pickerell said. "I always advise my children and my friends' children that they should put a sizeable portion of their income in a balanced mutual funds portfolio in bonds, stocks and in different markets for 20 years. That is how I prepared my retirement plan."