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Expanding horizons

Once at Rensselaer, the future engineer’s focus soon changed.
Global Vision
As Tai recalls, “I switched into management to have a more flexible curriculum”—one in which he could pursue humanities and social sciences along with math and science. And in what would prove to be a key building block for his career, he joined the staff of the Poly. Long hours putting out the paper made for a rough start to his college career, though, and his first year was marked more by lack of sleep and sparse class attendance than academic achievement.

But by the time he was editing the Poly, he was also earning good grades. Today he gives high marks for what was essentially a full-time job that nurtured real-world business skills. “Being editor teaches you to run an enterprise, to take risks, to motivate staff, to lead,” he says.

He notes with some pride that he was one of the first campus newspaper editors to speak out against the Vietnam War. And he backed up his editorial stance with action, quitting the ROTC program. It would have been unthinkable for him to fight in Southeast Asia, says Tai. “The Vietnamese were really poor displaced Chinese. We would have been fighting against our relatives.”

Tai’s communication skills enabled him to excel in the MBA program at Harvard and in a dynamic career that followed at J.P. Morgan, an institution that loomed large in his childhood journeys in lower Manhattan.

He recalls as a 7-year-old taking a shortcut through Wall Street en route from Chinatown to the Staten Island Ferry dock and passing by J.P. Morgan’s commanding 23 Wall Street headquarters as well as the New York Stock Exchange. Even at that young age, he says, “I promised myself that I would work on Wall Street some day.”

Tai would keep that promise, joining J.P. Morgan as a summer intern in 1973, in between his two-year program at Harvard. After receiving his MBA, he joined J.P. Morgan full time, starting as a portfolio manager and then an investment banker. His horizon expanded again in 1983, when he became executive director and chief representative of J.P. Morgan Securities Inc.’s Tokyo office. In 1986 he returned to New York as the firm’s global head of real estate, overseeing services in Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Jack and Kay Tai became adept at relocating and racked up frequent flyer miles. They were back in Tokyo in 1992 where, for the next three years, he served as senior officer for Asia Pacific operations, an area of oversight that encompassed Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. His 1995 posting brought him to San Francisco, as Morgan’s senior officer in the western United States.

Tai capped his career with the firm as managing director and member of the investment banking division’s management committee. “I spent 25 years with J.P. Morgan,” he recalls, “and I was always pleased by what they did for me. They gave me a chance to run their business. But,” he adds after a pause, “like any Western firm, when the chips were down—as during the Asian financial crisis in 1997—they cut back operations in Asia and focused on Europe and the States.”

When he retired from Morgan in 1999, the Tais began focusing their attention on Asia. “We wanted to do something different,” Tai says, “and we thought it would be wonderful to live in Southeast Asia.” When called to serve as CFO for the Development Bank of Singapore, he jumped at the chance. The Tais once again gathered up their possessions and headed to the far side of the Pacific Rim.

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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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