Since joining what was the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp. 44 years ago, Sir John Bond has done tours of duty in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, the U.S. and now Britain. "My wife has set up house 19 times in our married life," he says without a glimmer of guilt. "It's been absolutely brilliant." Bond is the epitome of today's global executiveand HSBC, as the firm is now called, is staggeringly global: it has 235,000 employees and 110 million customers in 77 countries. Bond, 63, has continued the relentless empire building in his seven years as chairman. In 2003 he bought Household International, an American consumer-lending behemoth, for $14.8 billion. Next he's poised to invest in an Iraqi bank.
But no frontier excites Bond so much as China, where the firm has had a presence since 1865, the year it was founded. HSBC already owns stakes in two Chinese banks and an insurance firm, and Bond hopes to have HSBC branches in as many as 25 Chinese cities within the next few years. Last year HSBC racked up a record profit of $17.6 billion. Bond sets the tone, flying economy class on short trips, favoring motorbike taxis over chauffeur-driven cars and personally scrutinizing office electricity bills. It's hardly glamorous, but when your way of doing business has worked for 140 years, why tamper with tradition?