Sir John Reginald Hartnell Bond
Doctor of Laws
11 July 2005 - Orator: Professor Ray Forrest
Sir John Bond has described himself as just an ordinary bloke who has been very lucky. However, as a keen, though lapsed, golfer he has also been known to quote Gary Player, who said, ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’. And from an early age, Sir John has worked with enormous energy and imagination to become today one of the most distinguished and influential bankers of his generation. He is group chairman of HSBC Holdings PLC and has been a dominant and guiding influence in transforming the bank into one of the major players on the global stage. The company is now the third largest financial institution in the world, has over 110 million customers and employs a quarter of a million staff in 77 countries and territories.
Both Sir John`s father and grandfather were Bristolians who lived at No. 50 Wells Road and he retains a strong interest in the fortunes of the city. Sir John himself was born in Oxford and educated at Tonbridge School in Kent. He won an English Speaking Union Scholarship to Cate School in California where he completed his secondary education. He then went down to Long Beach and got a job as a deckhand on a cargo ship – ending up in Hong Kong. This was the start of his forty-year career with what was then the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Sir John did not attend university but showed his intellectual qualities in gaining the second highest marks of his year worldwide in the Institute of Banking Examinations.
He has said that when he joined the bank at the age of 19, among other things, he wanted an adventure. It has been an adventure which has taken him from being an impoverished bank trainee with a room in a shared house in Lewisham to the very top of one of the most powerful and influential companies in the world. And it is an adventure which has involved working in Asia for 25 years – in Hong Kong, Singapore,Thailand and Indonesia – and in the USA for four years before coming back to the UK. He has travelled almost continuously in China since 1972 and has been fortunate to develop an intimate knowledge of a country which will be a major influence on all our lives this century. Consistent with your own thinking, Madam Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Sir John believes that we must actively prepare our young people for the exciting re-emergence of China on the world stage
In 1988 he became an executive director of the bank and returned to the USA in 1991 as Chief Executive Officer of HSBC, USA. In 1993 he was appointed group executive of HSBC Holdings and took up his current role as Group Chairman in 1998. He was knighted for his services to banking in 1999. In addition to being Chairman of the HSBC Banking Group, among his other activities, Sir John is on the boards of Ford Motor Company and Vodafone. He has been Chairman of the Institute of International Finance and a governor of the English Speaking Union, the organisation that had such an influence on his own formative years.
Under his chairmanship, HSBC has made formidable progress towards being a comprehensively internationalised and fully integrated global institution. Its main subsidiaries, most notably Midland Bank, have been rebranded and are now part of a highly sophisticated global network – taking full advantage of cutting-edge technology. Sir John`s aim has been to make HSBC the most efficient, profitable and best performing bank in the world.
He has a reputation as a relentless cost cutter in line with the original prospectus of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which described a local bank founded on Scottish principles of thrift. He has applied these principles from the top down. HSBC executives are required to travel economy class on many journeys. And when he first joined the bank he was taught to turn off the lights when he left the office. This is a lesson which has stayed with him, although he is now somewhat constrained in this practice by the sophisticated technology of the bank`s new Canary Wharf headquarters! He is also known for his habit of costing meetings and displaying the results for all to see. Initiative, action and decisiveness are what he values in his staff. He is fond of a small poster which among other things describes meetings as ‘the practical alternative to work’ and a way to combat loneliness. In an organisation with a large number of employees, “individual actions” he says “add up to meaningful results”. Madam Pro-Vice-Chancellor – these are sentiments which I am sure you would heartily endorse for the management of a modern university.
Sir John is also a passionate believer in the wider responsibilities of large corporations to the communities in which they operate. A successful international business must be profitable but success is as much about the character and reputation of a company. For him, a successful company must be seen as a force for good in the world. The issues of the environment; the issues of equality of opportunity; of gender or race; the issues of world poverty; these issues for Sir John are an essential part of the 21st century corporation. As Chairman he has energetically promoted the two key philanthropic themes of the company – education and the environment. He formed the HSBC Education Trust in 2001which supports schooling for disadvantaged young people in various parts of the world. He has committed the bank to numerous environmental initiatives and has consistently stressed the overwhelming importance of climate change. He has promoted a project with Earthwatch which involves sending 2000 of his staff on scientific projects around the world. Both in the UK and worldwide, he has committed the bank to the use of green energy sources and to encouraging environmentally sustainable practices among its customers. Under his Chairmanship the bank has given £30 million to Investing in Nature.
What more can be said of Sir John the man? He has said that to succeed in business you have to combine qualities of pragmatism, sensitivity, curiosity and a recognition that life is a continuous learning process. In his long and successful career he has shown all these qualities to a high degree. And despite the elevated circles he moves in he remains thoroughly modest and unassuming. Typical of this modesty is a Chinese proverb which he says gives him a perspective on being the boss: today, you`re a rooster, tomorrow you`re a feather duster.
Madam Pro-Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Sir John Reginald Hartnell Bond as most eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.