Degree Speeches

Summer 2000


Sir John Bond

Presentation of the Honorary Graduand at the Winter Degree Congregation held on Monday 18 December at 2.30pm

Chancellor, Lord Lieutentant, Vice-Chancellor, Mayor and Mayoress of Charnwood, Graduants, Ladies and Gentlemen

Like most bankers of his generation, Sir John Bond did not go to University, but he showed something of his intellectual mettle in achieving the second highest marks of his year worldwide in the Institute of Bankers examinations. He also won an English Speaking Union scholarship to study at Cate College in California, whence he worked his passage to Hong Kong and the start of a 40-year career at the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, now HSBC.

After a steady rise through the ranks, Sir John emerged as chief executive of HSBC's merchant banking arm, Wardley, in the mid 1980s. Then, in the early 1990s, he was instrumental in turning round the fortunes of its North American subsidiary, Marine Midland. That led to his appointment as group chief executive of HSBC in 1993 and as chairman in 1998.

Sir John's predecessor was the legendary Willie Purves, who had been instrumental in putting most of the present components of HSBC together, including the acquisition of its initial stake in Midland Bank. The HSBC way had traditionally been to let its subsidiaries operate with a fair degree of local autonomy; but this was not to prove Sir John's way.

Instead. his mission has been to turn HSBC into something quite without precedent - a fully integrated global leader in a commercial banking industry which is still characterised in the main by national rather than truly international players.

His achievements in pursuing this mission have been formidable. The main operating subsidiaries, including Midland, have been rebranded HSBC. Two further major acquisitions have been made in the United States and France. A trail-blazing partnership has been forged with Merrill Lynch; while behind the scenes HSBC has been taking advantage of falling telecommunications costs to integrate its back-office operations on a global scale. Today, if one of Sir John's Loughborough customers informs the bank of a change of address, that information is likely to be processed, not in Loughborough or Leicester or London, but in Hyderabad.

Rigorous cost control is at the heart of HSBC's success formula and Sir John ensures that this formula is applied consistently throughout the organisation, starting at the top. Unlike many of his HSBC colleagues, he is not a Scot, but somewhere along the line Caledonian frugality has rubbed off on him. Relative to the size and success of the business he heads, he is probably the least well-paid senior executive of any FTSE 100 company.

He starts meetings by calculating the hourly costs of the staff attending them and writing the figure up for all to see. He turns off unnecessary electric lights not just from habit but because he knows exactly how many hundreds of thousands of pounds it costs to heat and light his head office premises. In short, Chancellor, he is a man after our own Vice-Chancellor's heart.

Heading one of the largest and most successful banking groups in the world leaves little time for extra-curricular activity; but in addition to a handful of non-executive directorships, including most recently Ford, Sir John is chairman of the Institute of International Finance. The IIF is a relatively unknown but hugely important agency which does much valuable work behind the scenes to avert and mitigate the debt problems of the world's poorest countries.

Sir John is also a Governor of the English Speaking Union, which helped to send him on his westward route to Hong Kong all those years ago; and it is no surprise that, under his leadership, education has emerged as the most important object of HSBC's corporate philanthropy. He believes passionately in its importance, and I hope he finds it fitting that he is receiving his honorary degree today from the University with which Midland Bank formed such a strong and imaginative educational partnership a quarter of a century ago.

Francis Bacon wrote: "I hold every man a debtor to his profession, from the which as men of course do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavour themselves, by way of amends, to help and ornament thereunto." Sir John has never failed to recognise his debt and has been concerned all his working life to "help and ornament" the profession of banking; last year, indeed, he was knighted for his services to it.

Therefore, Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, and to the whole University, SIR JOHN BOND, Group Chairman, HSBC Holdings plc, for the degree of DOCTOR OF LETTERS, honoris causa.

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