Corporate Eye

HSBC CEO Leaves London for Hong Kong

HSBC_Hong_KongThe HSBC brand is steeped in British culture and tradition.  But what happens to the brand when the CEO moves to an office in Hong Kong?

That’s exactly what’s happening at HSBC.  The reason for the move is simple — Asia is where the money is, and HSBC is following it.  The company’s focus has shifted from Europe and the U.S. to Asia, and the CEO’s move shouts that new strategy to the world loud and clear.  But what does that do to the existing HSBC customer base and the brand promise overall?

To many consumers, the HSBC CEO move and clear message of new focus and new direction could be perceived as a slap in the face — a “you’re no longer our priority” message.  Of course, HSBC isn’t the first company to shift its focus in order to keep growing and remain profitable.  And don’t forget that HSBC was founded in Hong Kong and Shanghai over a century ago.  However, recent history has tied the company closely to the United Kingdom, a fact the company has promoted and even used as a fundamental component of its brand image.  HSBC’s message in recent years has been one of differentiation.  The company’s slogan, “the world’s local bank” didn’t come close to reflecting the company’s broader brand image that adamantly differentiated it from other finance companies of the world.

I’m sure HSBC will succeed with its new strategy of focusing on Asia and the East to continually grow shareholder value, but are there lessons to learn from this story?  Is moving a CEO to another part of the world more symbolic in terms of changing the brand image than anything else?

It’s not surprising that HSBC is returning to its roots and following the money, but the CEO move makes the strategic shift more visible and “real” than any press release or executive speech ever could.  I’m certain HSBC knew this when the decision was made.

The lesson to learn from this story?  Sometimes actions speak louder and spread farther than words.

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

I’m guessing the main driving force behind this move is for HSBC to tap into the emerging markets…however, why couldnt they do this without having to move the CEO?

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