Jeremy Parrish, the chief executive of Standard Chartered, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, has risen to prominence during a career that has seen him travel the world before arriving in the capital four years ago, where his expertise is being used to lift the bank's profile, writes Rupert Wright Jeremy Parrish's office affords probably the best view any banker has of a Starbucks in the world. Set behind smoked-glass windows a floor above the cafe, his desk literally overlooks the baristas knocking up coffees and teas for thirsty locals.
Chances are if you are a frequent visitor to the Starbucks in the Standard Chartered building on the capital's First Street, Mr Parrish will have seen you. Anyone in need of a short-term loan would be advised to write it on a placard and brandish it while ordering their tall skinny lattes. The loan might even come through quicker than the coffee. "It's funny," he says. "In the rest of the world Starbucks is seen as rather a less fashionable brand these days. But here in the UAE, it's still one of the places to go and be seen."
Raising Standard Chartered's profile in Abu Dhabi was one of Mr Parrish's first missions when he arrived in October 2005, and part of that has been fulfilled by its new headquarters, including the coffee shop. On an evening you can walk straight from the cafe into the bank. Before, they had just a tiny kiosk. "Our then chief executive Mervyn Davies came out here and saw the potential," he says. "He had held a board meeting in Dubai and then came down to Abu Dhabi. He saw it was important here, but spotted that the business here was passive, with lousy premises, and had a fit.
"He rang me up and said, 'I want you to go to Abu Dhabi,' to which I said, 'Why?' He said we should come and have a look. We had just bought a house in Sussex, so the timing wasn't great from that perspective, but we came and I'm still here, and what a fantastic time it was to arrive." Mr Parrish is very enthusiastic about growth in the country. "If all goes according to plan, we shall triple, quadruple, our business in the next four to five years.
"People say about the country, 'Why are we shooting for the moon when before we were playing in the sand dunes?' That book, Vision 2030, came out, and they have committed to a plan. From my perspective, it's terrific. There is a plan, the money is around, and now it's all about execution." Standard Chartered has been one of the few banks to enjoy itself over the past couple of years. It has had a relatively good crisis, while its share price last year rose more than 80 per cent.
"Why? Two reasons: we are big in emerging markets and they are rebounding, and we did not get caught out in subprime. Why were we not caught out? Focusing on Asia, Africa and Middle East, we stuck to our core strategy and markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and linking them to Europe and the Americas. "Obviously, trade finance was our big thing but we are also getting involved in investment flows such as advising Indian companies on acquisitions in UK. Also, debt capital markets. We were involved in half of all the debt issues of Abu Dhabi borrowers last year. We co-arranged US$4.5 billion (Dh16.52bn) of debt. This is part of the bank's push into investment banking."
Mr Parrish began his career at Grindlays Bank in 1978 as a graduate trainee. "I considered publishing, which my father did, and auctioneering. My father's best friend worked at Philips in Edinburgh and I spent every holiday working there and in London's Bond Street, just as a porter and a bit of cataloguing. What an interesting business, but no money in it. None at all, at least not then. Ditto publishing.
"Then I thought about banking. I'm interested in people and good at arithmetic. Don't ask me to do any sums, though." Grindlays was owned 49 per cent by Citibank at the time. "I was trained at Lewisham [in London]. The money was much better than any other career and even higher than many other bankers at the time because it was owned by Americans." He spent his first two years in London, learning the trade at Citibank where, he says, "training is second to none".
Then he was sent to Dusseldorf, "just three of us in the office, it was huge fun. We covered the German market for multinationals such as Siemens, Hoechst, Bayer." You speak German? "Yes, jawohl." "After being in Germany for a few years I started dressing like [a German], . In 1984, I moved to Hong Kong and ran capital markets business. By then [Grindlays] had become ANZ. Then to Switzerland, and private banking."
After his time in Zurich, he went to ANZ Merchant bank and was put in charge of developing business in east and central Europe. He attended the first European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Central Bank meeting in Budapest in 1992, when Jacques Attali was the president. "Attali was utterly awful, surrounded by six body guards, you couldn't get near [him]. "But Budapest was tremendously good fun. We were trying to get value out of old Comecon credits that central banks and other institutions had. They had all these duff loans for [places] such as Vietnam and Angola."
Then Standard Chartered approached him to run its business in Europe. "We set up a team to exploit the opportunities in Germany. It was all 'suitcase banking', going into Germany, Switzerland, France." He was then sent to Singapore, in 1996, to run corporate banking, a much bigger domestic banking business, with more than 300 staff and thousands of accounts. "It was very interesting, very different, running a vertical business in one geography. Before, I had done mainly multinational business."
More challenging? "To an extent. There is less financial information, [you are] not sure of corporate governance, transparency issues. This is relevant in this region, because you are not sure of transparency - independent board members' comprehensiveness in the accounts are all things that will come but haven't come yet." Many in the Middle East have focused in the past on name lending. Mr Parrish thinks some of the surprises of the past few years will lead to a gradual decline in this practice.
"It hasn't been abandoned but there is a gradual shift to get more comprehensive information, which has been difficult in the past. Publicy quoted companies here have to file accounts and you can get reasonable information but not up to the standards you would reasonably want. Instead, you have to rely on good relationships with managers and family. "And you rely on other banks, too. If you do cash mangement, obviously you see their cash flows."
He returned briefly to Hong Kong to run institutional banking for Asia, with particular emphasis on Japan, Korea and Taiwan. How did he secure these positions? "The bank does its utmost to get to know people. It knows who wants to move around. I have moved around every two or three years. "Every so often I go back to London. When you go back to London you think, 'Oh my God, no office, no driver, have to slum it on public transport. It's a shocker. Then you do it for a bit, then sneak off again."
He says there is quite a lot of 'succession planning' involved. "You have to update your profile once a year, so they know what you are up to. We have a broad self-service approach to data input. Every year you update your talent profile, ideas about career progression. When you get to the length of time I've been in the company, everybody knows what you are about." What makes a good banker? "It's a service industry. You have to be able to relate to people, have good listening skills. Second, have a good appreciation for risk, and third, it's about making sure you get the product back that you have sold. When we make a loan, we need to get it back, unlike other businesses. For example, if I sell you a toothbrush I don't need to get it back. But as a banker, I do. It's about having the mindset to nurture a relationship. First, you'll get more business but also you'll get your money back."
Where could he go next? "This is one of those markets where the longer you are here, the better you are able to get things done. Most markets are relationship driven, but here especially, so you need a degree of commitment. "I have been here four years. From a business point of view it's terrific. From a lifestyle point, it's also pretty good. The bank now wants to leave people in roles longer than before. If you move people around too fast, they make quick decisions, change things, that all goes wrong but by then they have taken their bonuses and moved on, leaving someone else to clear up the mess."
Mr Parrish has big plans for Standard Chartered in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. "The business is there for the taking. There is a fragmented banking business, some walking wounded among local banks. It's a great opportunity. Seize the moment, I say." When not working, or looking at the queue in Starbucks, Mr Parrish is a keen tennis player, skis in the Alps whenever he can, and enjoys long walks. "Otherwise, I have few leisure activities. I chill out at the Emirates Palace Health Club."
He also raises money for the Special Care Centre, a school founded 20 years ago by the Indian Ladies Association for handicapped children in Abu Dhabi. The original building is now too small and they plan to build a new school in Shahama on land gifted by Sheikha Fatima, the widow of the Shiekh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE. The next fundraising event will be a gala dinner at the Fairmont Hotel on April 29 in the new ballroom.
"I hope to see you all there," he says. He springs out of his chair and looks down at the queue in Starbuck's. "Come on," he says. "There's not many people there now, let's go and get a coffee." @Email:email@example.com