Chris Ryan resigns from Fidelity

After nearly two years, the Asia-Pacific managing director steps down to pursue new ambitions, leaving the funds giant to seek a new regional head.

Chris Ryan has resigned as managing director for Asia ex-Japan (and ex-Australia/New Zealand) at Fidelity International and will leave the company on December 31. His exit comes on the heels of the recent decision by Brett Goodin to retire as Asia-Pacific president.

The firm will not look to replace Ryan directly and is still looking for a replacement for Goodin. The decision to hire someone to oversee Asia ex-Japan and ex-Australia would be up to the future president.

In the meantime, Tokyo-based Thomas Balk, president of Fidelity's Japan operations since 2006, will serve as interim president for Asia-Pacific. He will also represent Fidelity on the firm's global operating committee.

Ryan is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable executives in the region's asset-management industry. Marrying his ambition and expertise to one of the world's biggest fund management companies caught the industry's attention.

He says he intends to remain in Asia in asset management, an industry he describes as being in a "golden age". The opportunities remain compelling, he adds, as many local markets have reached or are on the cusp of critical mass and commercial viability for asset managers.

Ryan declined to comment on his future plans other than hinting that he has an arrangement in the works. It may be some time before he is able to announce his new direction, he adds.

He is not a Fidelity veteran, having joined at the start of 2008. That was after leading ING Investment Management's expansion into a retail force in Asia, including the formation of the first fund management joint-venture company in China.

Ryan's early departure has sparked speculation. He (and Fidelity) are keen to deny some of the more widely circulated ideas. These include rumours that he grew frustrated with Fidelity's vetoing his desire to found a domestic JV fund company in China or that he was blocked from making certain key hires.

There has been no one incident that sparked the decision to leave, he says. Rather, he has discussed his departure with the firm over a period of weeks or months. Ryan says his idea of how to lead the firm in Asia differed with Fidelity's vision, and this became manifest in many small ways that eventually resulted in their parting of ways.

On China, Fidelity has long made clear it is not interested in a JV, particularly one where it doesn't have control. Ryan never pitched a JV, although he did try to come up with other structures to access Chinese investors.

As far as hiring goes, both Ryan and Fidelity deny there has been a clash on that front, and a Fidelity spokeswoman says he has enjoyed a free hand to bring on board key people from his ING days. These included Long Zhan as China country head and business development executive Carlo Venes in Hong Kong and non-ING execs, such as Hong Kong director Kerry Ching from UBS Global Asset Management.

The parting has been amicable, both sides agree. "This has been the most gentlemanly departure I've ever seen," says a Fidelity spokeswoman.

She says the firm's strategy for the region is not changing as a result of Ryan's move. "We continue to have a strong senior management team in place to oversee our business, and the region remains a significant growth opportunity for Fidelity," she says. "Our focus and commitment to building a presence here, as well as our overall strategy, remains unchanged."

So what made Ryan leave? The best guess is that while both he and Fidelity agree on the region's opportunity for a big asset manager, Ryan was in more of a hurry than was practicable at such a huge institution.

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