StanChart boss loves cooking for charities

IF there were one chairman of a global bank who can say he can cook crème brulee to perfection, it would be Mervyn Davies of Standard Chartered plc. 

Crème brulee is a dessert that needs to be cooked over very slow fire so as not to burn the brown sugar, and the process can be tedious to someone who has no patience. 

He often cooks for his family and even for charity, and big groups, too. He has cooked for charity in many places, including Bangkok and Singapore, and even volunteered to cook for an employee when this interview was going on, an offer not many people in his position would make. 

“You pick the menu and I would cook for you,’’ he told Mohamad Azam Ali, the head of corporate affairs at Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia Bhd. 

Davies, 53, said he cooked for charity and joked that he had not heard of anyone dying of his cooking. 

Doing things for charity has become part of his life. He is also passionate about the environment. If we do nothing, then there would be no planet to worry about. Temperatures are changing, coastlines are eroding and that is our biggest challenge,’’ he said. 

When natural tragedies such as earthquakes or tsunamis occur, it may be a big problem for everyone, but it also “makes us feel humble,’’ he said. 

“The biggest reward for me is not the performance of a company but corporate social responsibility (CSR) – how you help the community. And if we are a good corporate citizen who treats everyone the same, then there would be people out there who would want to bank with us. That is important for the future,’’ Davies said. 

The bank is involved in many CSR projects in the countries it operates in and is well known for its “Living with HIV’’ and “Seeing is believing’’ campaigns. The bank aims to deliver one million sight restorations globally by World Sight Day 2007 (Oct 15). 

As much as he enjoys cooking, this man is also passionate about his life, his health, his travels, his family and most of all, his job. To him, finding a balance in work and life is important. He believes one must “enjoy life and make the most of it.’’ 

He said if people enjoyed what they did, they could do their jobs better and he is a “great believer in bringing the best strengths rather than weaknesses’’ of people around him. 

But he wants his space too, to do the things he likes, be it work or other things. 

Children from orphanages helping themselves to some foodduring the Hari Raya Puasa party organised by the bank aspart of its CSR programme.

“I need my space, my work, and so does my family. There has to be a balance (in everything),’’ he said. 

He added that “humour and colour are fabrics of life.” 

“Life may have its challenges, the ups and downs, but if we want to be treated nice, we have to be nice to people. If you follow that, you would do well in life.’’ 

In his last position as group CEO, Davies travelled extensively to all the 56 countries where Standard Chartered has operations. Travelling, to him, is a window to meeting all types of people, knowing their cultures and religions, and being part of their festivities. 

“The more you travel, the more you would see that people around the world are ready to help each other,’’ Davies said. 

Malaysia is a country he likes for its diverse cultures and “great food.’’ His only disappointment is that whenever he is in Malaysia, he cannot have enough of the hawker food since most functions are held in the office or hotels. He said he enjoyed Indian and Chinese food, particularly spicy and Sichuan respectively. 

He may seem to be a tough boss, but this man spends a lot of time communicating and listening to the many employees of the bank. 

He said: “My team, wife and children tell me when I make a mistake.” 

“If you want to be a CEO, don't be afraid to make a mistake,” he added. 

Davies also understands the importance of listening to the consumers. 

He said the consumer today was much more sophisticated.  

He wants personalised services, from statement design to the flexibility of checking bank balances from his mobile or home telephone. The consumer also wants a faster service.  

Moreover, he no longer relies on just one bank as he has more than one account. He also wants to access more markets and instruments. 

“Customers have many choices. We never stop innovating and our focus is to give better and better services to them. We believe in providing value and our customers have been supportive of us,’’ Davies said.  

“We have to move with the customer and become more customer-centric and innovative,’’ he said. 

He foresaw Basle II having a significant impact on the banking industry globally and he expected several trade agreements to be signed that would open up new trade corridors. 

Competition is to be expected in all markets. In any market, the bank has to contend with new entrants, consolidation and the emergence of other specialised bank.  

Standard Chartered prides itself to be a specialist bank. “We do not worry about competition as competition is healthy. We have also shown that we can grow in any environment as we have service levels that our customers (desire). We can adapt to changes and are innovative. 

“We are also a specialist bank and we are different from the global banks which are into everything. That is what makes our shares attractive, and we remain an attractive bank to our consumers,’’ he said. 

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