As an industry veteran of 31-years Michael Greenall has had many years of experience in the finance industry. Before taking the helm at Value Partners Asset Management Malaysia as its Managing Director for South-East Asia Business, he had previously held the post of Managing Director of Regional Head of Research at CGS-CIMB Securities.
His favourite quote is “Lay Low and Aim High” (not to be confused with the five-member indie/rock band from Ontario of a similar name) and it is something that he frequently reminds himself and holds true to it.
Vistage International Malaysia Chair and Chief Executive Officer Coach, Michael Oh caught up with Greenall to ask how he is doing things differently at Value Partners Asset Management Malaysia.
On reflection, what do you consider the defining moments in your first 100 days in this position?
After spending almost 30 years of my career in Equity Research and sharing ideas with fund managers, I ‘jumped over the fence’ and I am now on the receiving end of equity ideas. I realised early that I had a steep learning curve to ‘fund speak’. Additionally, I was setting up Value Partners’ Malaysia office from scratch – hire staff and, at the same time, deal with interior designers, construction, IT, building managers and various other people. I was fortunate, however, that I could draw from my past experience in setting up offices for Baring Securities, Caspian Securities and BNP Paribas Research. As for hiring, I took the decision to hire executive staff who were experienced and smarter than me (I always believe in hiring people smarter than me, so I enrich my learning experience). By the grace of God, I found a pristine office location in Integra Tower, The Intermark, and managed to hire my dream team. By end 2018, we received our fund management license from the Securities Commission and we started operations from our new office on the first working day of 2019.
What do you regard as the crucial factors for you to stay on top of your game?
This is not an easy task. One key element is to be relevant to your customers – with the right product, right time and the right price. This, in essence, is simple to say but difficult to balance, especially when you have a new operation that needs to breakeven as soon as possible. Then, there is competition from other asset management firms in Malaysia and overseas. But we have two factors working to our advantage: I have very capable staff in my team that I communicate constantly and work closely with, and we have very strong support from our top management in Hong Kong. We also have top-class managers who deliver good fund performances. With all these factors, we can be relevant to our clients.
What do you foresee are game-changing challenges facing your industry and how do you propose to overcome them?
While I do not believe in crystal ball gazing, I would say that the trends are clear: financial markets are increasingly volatile, business cycles are getting shorter and there is a lot of uncertainty. Additionally, customers are always looking for lower fees. These are the main challenges in the funds management business.
While we cannot control the financial markets, tweets and market cycles, we can control our costs and how we work. We must stay relevant to our customers. With uncertainty, we have to always be at our customers’ disposal to advise in a timely manner and correctly. In addition, our dedicated analysts and fund managers actively conduct thousands of primary company visits to companies all over Asia every year, as opposed to secondary (meaning only reading sell side analysts’ reports). I’d modify the popular saying, ‘Knowledge is Power’, to ‘Primary Knowledge is Power’.
Single out a leader in the corporate world you wish to emulate.
One of the corporate leaders I most admire is Robert Kwok. He epitomises growing his companies from ‘Good to Great’. I admire his business acumen, success in building great companies, mentoring his staff to become good leaders and, most of all, humility and humbleness. No doubt, some may argue that his timing in business was blessed. But I would add that one needs to be able and have confidence to ‘Move’ when the correct timing shows itself.
What makes Value Partners stand out from the competition?
Value Partners’ speciality is the Greater China Market. While the current trade spat between China and the US has affected sentiment in the China financial markets, one has to take a step back and look at the value emerging in the China market, in particular, the domestic A-Share market. By end-2019, the widely followed MSCI Emerging Markets Index will raise the China A-share inclusion factor from five per cent now to 20 per cent. This means that China A-shares’ weight will rise from 0.8 per cent to 3.3 per cent. Ultimately, the weight will rise to above 15 per cent and this means that global funds, which have less than five per cent weight in China (Foreigners own 23 per cent of Malaysia’s equity market), will have to raise their weightage. Value Partners, with its China expertise, is among the best placed among most competitors to play this theme.
It is said that CEOs are lonely at the top. What do you think must a CEO do to overcome this?
I believe CEOs can choose if they want to remain lonely. My idea of a good CEO is someone who is approachable and who shares his/ her experience in a visionary way and not in a condescending manner. Someone who knows when to be stern and knows when to switch off. Apart from leading firms, a CEO also has the responsibility to open doors and opportunities for the firms they lead. These are never lonely tasks.