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Greg Guyett: Learn Constantly and Be Adaptable

By Daisy Lin

July 08, 2017
Greg Guyett, President and COO of East West Bank
Greg Guyett, the President and COO of East West Bank

Greg Guyett is the President and Chief Operating Officer of East West Bank, responsible for the commercial banking business, global operations, international banking, credit risk and information technology. Prior to joining East West Bank, Guyett served 30 years at J.P. Morgan in various leadership roles, including as the head of investment banking, Asia Pacific, responsible for its capital raising, mergers and acquisitions, and lending business across 14 countries. He also served as Chief Executive Officer for Greater China and oversaw J.P. Morgan’s businesses in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

How is the transition from a huge global bank to East West?

While I worked at a really big bank, I was stationed in a lot of places where J.P. Morgan was not very big. In 2013, J.P. Morgan was a relatively small bank in China, so it was important to be entrepreneurial in that environment in order to compete with the big Chinese banks. When I ran the corporate bank, we really built it from scratch internationally, and so there was a real entrepreneurial spirit and adaptability on my teams. Those experiences prepared me well.

What was your experience like working in Asia?

When I moved to Tokyo in 2007 as the CEO for J.P. Morgan Japan, I was an investment banker with one assistant and then, overnight, I had 1,500 people reporting to me; it was a big learning experience. That was a huge change from being a producer, where you are primarily focused on making your annual goal. I’ve been that, so that’s why I'm very sympathetic to all of our people on the front lines here, because we have to get up every morning and produce.

Managing people in a different culture was also a learning experience for me. How do you build a management team that both is relevant in the culture in which you're operating, and also has some of the global DNA and culture of the parent company? You have to have both. I also found that, as a foreigner, you have the right to sometimes do things that are not consistent with how business is usually done in a culture. You have to make a decision about when it's important to follow convention and when it's important not to follow convention.

When I moved back to Asia in 2013 to be responsible for Greater China, everybody said, "Well of course you're going to move to Hong Kong," and I said, "No, I'm going to move to Shanghai." I'm really glad I did because I got a much better understanding of China, living there 24/7. My wife speaks some Chinese—she studied it at university and then lived in Taipei for a couple of years—and my 17-year-old daughter enrolled in school in Shanghai.

We had a number of offices all over China, and I traveled around learning different cultures, customs and ways of operating. We were growing a business, and I was hiring a lot of people. When you get out and meet young people going to universities, you learn a lot.

Was there anything that stood out to you about doing business in China?

The rules were still developing in a lot of ways, and you were breaking ground as you introduced new initiatives or products because there wasn't much precedent. So, it was a great experience because it forced me to develop a lot of relationships with regulators. I learned that, in China, everything somehow relates to the government because it is actively involved in business, owns a lot of companies directly, and has a large influence through regulation and law. So having an appreciation for the objectives of the government was crucial.

I suppose the other thing I really learned about doing business in China is that networks were really important, whether it was networks from people that had grown up together or gone to school together, or networks that stretch back a couple of generations. It was very important to try and understand that, and was an important part of decision making.

What attracted you to join East West Bank?

Certainly, I wanted to have a chance to work with and learn from Dominic [Ng, CEO of East West Bank], who has had such great success in leading the bank. I really believe that we have an amazing opportunity to keep growing organically for the foreseeable future, and expand our customer base and products.

Another thing that really attracted me to East West Bank is the unique multinational culture. Having worked in a bank that also had a multinational presence has helped me to understand how to adapt my own style and approaches so that they are compatible with the culture of the institution.

So how do you like Southern California?

I love Southern California, although when I got here, it rained for the first six weeks. Everybody said, "Great. It's raining." I said, "No, no, no. It's not great." (laughing)

I'm so impressed with Los Angeles because it’s such a dynamic, international city right now, particularly with the face to Asia and Latin America. There’s so much excitement around food, art and having such a variety of things to do. Also, you are quite close to nature. You can get out in the mountains or be at the beach. My family likes to get out and hike or mountain bike.

You were an archaeology major at Princeton. How did you get into banking?

In the beginning, I was just trying to pay the bills. I had no idea when I started that I was going to be a lifetime banker, but I enjoy it. I mean, part of it is that I had been an exchange student in Japan during high school, so I really wanted to do something that was international and that would give me the chance to live internationally.

I just found the work interesting. It's an industry that changes constantly; we've seen that in the last decade since the financial crisis. You're constantly having to reinvent yourself and learn new things. The learning curve stays very steep, which I find exciting.

What do you think it takes to succeed now in this industry?

Bankers and banking have gotten a lot of bad press since the financial crisis, and, certainly, if you could rewind the tape, things should have been done differently. However, banking is the lifeblood of the economy, and particularly where we play—in the broader middle market, helping people build businesses, helping them do trade—it's critical.

It's really important that we keep our entrepreneurial spirit. Both Dominic and I work really hard on growing the bank; we’re adding people and capabilities, and we also want to try to keep this entrepreneurial mindset. One of the things that I hear all the time when I go out and visit customers is that they like working with us because we respond fast. We've got a high degree of customer service, and we’re creative, so it’s an advantage for us. We have to make sure that we still remember that. We want to be better, faster, and quicker than the next guy.

You know, it's just as important as it was when I was starting out to have people who can adapt and be flexible. Yes, it's great to have finance majors, but we also need people who want to constantly learn. The industry and the world are changing all the time—and changing faster—so we need people who are good in analytics and also are adaptable. At the end of the day, we are a people business. Technology will never eliminate that.

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