Blair Pickerell is leaving Morgan Stanley Investment Management (MSIM) in Hong Kong, where he had served as managing director and CEO for Asia-Pacific. He is on gardening leave and has lined up a job in Hong Kong, also in asset management, but cannot yet disclose where.

Pickerell says the departure is amicable. He had been approached by a number of firms with job offers and decided to take one. He joined MSIM in 2007.

Industry observers believe his decision results from MSIM's strategic move away from the retail funds business globally. This was signalled by last year's decision to sell its US retail line, Van Kampen Investments, to Invesco.

Pickerell is a well-known figure in the Asian asset-management market. In the 1980s, at Jardine Fleming Asset Management, he pioneered the offshore funds industry in Taiwan, setting a model for the region.

Arguably, he has spent much of the past decade trying to replicate that success in China, first on his own, then with HSBC Global Investments, and then with MSIM. Pickerell is a fluent Mandarin speaker, but the strict regulatory limitations in China have proven insurmountable so far.

MSIM also had an opportunity to transform itself into a leading player in Japan's retail funds business following the acquisition of a stake in the firm by UFJ Mitsubishi in 2008. MUFJ is a huge player in Japan and a distribution machine that could have benefited from MSIM's global suite. But evidently the economics of a deal never quite materialised, and the Van Kampen sale ended the prospect.

Morgan Stanley is now led by James Gorman, who took the reins last year. Gorman's background is wealth management. Perhaps, then, it is not a surprise that Pickerell's responsibilities will be assumed by another private banker.

His Asia role is not being directly filled. Instead it is being conflated into an international one under London-based Navtej Nandra. He has recently joined MSIM as head of MSIM International, and takes over Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Nandra was previously head of diversified financial services and COO of Merrill Lynch's global wealth management division. He has also served as COO of Merrill's global investment bank, and founded the New York office of consultants Cambridge Group.

Nandra was hired by Morgan Stanley executive Gregory Fleming in New York, also a former Merrill Lynch executive, who is meant to improve the investment management business, which suffered heavy losses in real estate in 2007-2008.

Other MSIM roles are being centralised in New York, including that of global head of sales under new hire Lisa Jones, formerly of Eaton Vance; global head of risk under new hire Jim Janover, ex-Merrill; and COO for the long-only business, under Sara Furber, also ex-Merrill. Much of the back office for MSIM has been outsourced to State Street.