Spain, Latin America, Turkey, Sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia, and China have all played a key role in shaping the career path of Sebastian Paredes, CEO of DBS Bank in Hong Kong. DBS is the seventh largest bank in Hong Kong in terms of assets and its network of 3,250 branches operating in 17 markets, and has a growing presence in Asia’s three major hubs of progress: China, and South and Southeast Asia. Paredes believes that in the current globalized world “businesses need to be led by global-minded people who are committed to a global vision of everything that counts on an economic, political and social level.”
Throughout your career, what has been your greatest achievement?
I’ve lived in so many countries and held so many positions that it’s very difficult to cite anything in particular. In general terms, what stands out most was having the opportunity to work for 20 years as the general director of Citigroup in a large number of countries that were far-removed from my own Latin American culture. This was fundamental. After that, serving as general director of the Danamon Bank in Indonesia, the second largest privately owned bank in the country. Today, heading the most important bank in South Asia, which holds the No. 50 position worldwide. Having these responsibilities and forming part of the transformation of each of these banks has been the most interesting experiences I have had at a professional level, and, I have to say, my biggest professional achievement.
…and the biggest disappointment?
Looking back, so many years of cultural and professional changes can mean there are certain things that impact both your personal and professional life. For example, having your family change country every three years can have a major impact on everyone’s home life. Also, not being near your roots, I mean, not being able to have permanent contact with your own country, culture, or extended family. It’s also important to remember that after two or three years in a place, you start to build strong friendships which are very difficult to maintain when you go off to another country. This is something that I have always found difficult.
In times of crisis, do you think businesses need a new style of leadership?
There are certain attributes of a leader that have not changed over time and never will. It’s also obvious that a leader has to have certain abilities that are fundamental in this new world. In a globalized world we cannot have a sole vision of the country where we live, the economy we work in, and what affects that one country. Today’s leaders have to have a deep working knowledge about what is happening in the world, of new trends, not only economic but political and social as well, and of new technologies which are transforming work models in this new corporate landscape. Hence businesses need to be led by people with a global mindset, by people who are very committed to this global vision. A leader has to have all this plus the ability to make decisions, integrity, and the ability to choose effective working teams.
At this stage in your career, what is the biggest challenge you face?
I am lucky to have worked in Latin America, Spain, Turkey, Africa, Indonesia and now Hong Kong. The more you get to know the world the more you realize just how small and interdependent it is. This interest in seeing things from a general and known point of view leads you to think about deeper issues, beyond the professional aspect of things. That’s why I would like to know the best place to go and offer part of this knowledge to institutions committed to social impact. Right now on a professional level, my challenge is to achieve maximum success in DBS in China – a totally Asian bank which holds the No. 50 position worldwide, a major presence in markets like Singapore and Hong Kong, and established in six countries within the Asian financial market. Without a doubt, China is the country with the greatest growth potential in the entire world and there are only six or seven foreign universal banks operating in China altogether. Of the 140 foreign banks in China, only a few of us are committed to the universal banking model, and the total revenues of universal banking scarcely represent 2.5% of the Chinese market. DBS constitutes 5% of that 2.5%, which means that the capacity to grow in China is practically without limit for any foreign bank. “Navigating” in China is one of the most important professional experiences I have had in my life because it’s unpredictable, but above all, because of the difficulties involved in competing against state banks, given that they maintain such a strong presence. In short, heading a foreign bank that wants to be a universal bank in China, and formulating a strategy and implementing it, is one of the most interesting challenges I have ever tackled.
Finally, as a student what did your experience at IE mean to you at the time?
It proved to be very important because I had studied in the United States initially and I tended to see the world from a US perspective in general. By coming to IE I gained a far more European and even global vision of things, which has played a critical role not only in my career but also in the decisions I went on to make.