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Jackson Tai

 Photo © 2002 R. Ian Lloyd

Global Vision
by Kathryn Gallien

Bankers’ hours aren’t what they used to be. In today’s world of round-the-clock global banking, there is business being transacted somewhere in the world every minute of the day and night. It’s enough to make an investment banker lose sleep.
But not Jackson Tai ’72, a man on a mission who has little to lose when it comes to sleep. Blessed with the ability to get by on very little, he can devote more waking hours to his Asian agenda: transforming the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) into a major pan-Asian enterprise.

Already ranked among the world’s top 100 banks, DBS has assets of $80 billion, up from $66.5 billion since Tai came on board in 1999. But far more important than asset growth, says Tai, “is the fact that DBS has transformed itself during this time period from being 85 percent concentrated in Singapore to become better diversified, with a strong presence in Singapore and Hong Kong,” where the bank is the fourth-largest. In a short period of time, DBS has achieved a dominant position in the two strongest markets in Asia. And the transformation of the bank, whose stated mission includes to “broaden our reach” and “seize opportunities in Singapore and beyond,” will not be complete until it is acknowledged as the best bank in Asia, period.

What is happening with DBS Bank is nothing short of a dramatic change “from a comfortably cash-rich government-linked corporation to a corporate risk-taker,” as CFO Asia put it last July, adding that “risk-taker” is “an unexpected label for a Singaporean company.” The June 2001 acquisition of Dao Heng Bank of Hong Kong was a huge risk, something akin to “acquiring someone else’s forefathers’ bank,” says Tai, noting that in Asian banking, “It is unusual to cut across boundaries.”

Traversing boundaries is not unusual for Tai, who is the bank’s president, COO, and CFO. What all those titles mean, Tai laughs, “is that I work the night shift.” His need for only a few hours sleep a night will come as no surprise to friends and classmates who remember his days—or more likely his nights—as editor of Rensselaer’s Polytechnic student newspaper.

“There are no large banks in Asia whose management is in the same time zone,” he says. “One of the compelling things about DBS Bank is that we are building a pan-Asian enterprise ‘in the time zone.’ ” It’s a bold and somewhat controversial goal: to build a bank managed by Asians for Asians.

“This is my second life,” says Tai, “to try to do something constructive for Asia.”

 

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Rensselaer Magazine: March 2002
President's View Your Mail From the Archives Hawk Talk Class Notes Features
Front Page At Rensselaer Milestones
In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Marketing and Media Relations.

 
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