A major changing of the guard is underway at Goldman Sachs in Asia, with longstanding head, Richard Gnoode preparing to leave for London and his successor, Mike Evans set to take over in January.

It is a significant personnel change in more ways than one. Gnodde leaves the top job in Asia at a time when the region is reckoned to comprise more than 25% of Goldman's total profitability this year, although this high percentage is partly the result of a closing out of distressed debt positions from the financial crisis.

Meanwhile, Evans is one of global CEO Hank Paulson's most senior lieutenants and is very familiar with the region - having worked on key deals such as the IPO of China Mobile. He is currently global head of equities, and the decision to relocate someone so senior to the region underpins how big a priority the region is for Goldman.

Gnodde's legacy

Under Gnodde's stewardship, Goldman's business in Asia has blossomed and reflecting as much, the firm has won FinanceAsia's investment bank of the year award in the last two years. He leaves at a time when Goldman leads the equity league tables by several billion dollars and can contentedly reflect that many of the region's most defining transactions have been led by Goldman on his watch.

Gnodde, a South African, first arrived in Asia in 1997 after 10-years with Goldman in London. Initially appointed co-headof investment banking in Japan, he went on to became co-head of investment banking for Asia, based in Singapore and then President of Asia, based in Hong Kong. In 2003, he was promoted to the firm's global management committee, becoming the first representative to sit on it from the Asian region.

Among his legacies are Goldman's new joint venture in China - an initiative which he drove personally - and the JBWere partnership in Australia, of which Goldman owns 45%.

Gnodde departs for London, where he will be Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International and will oversee the firm's most senior corporate relationships, bringing to discussions with European CEOs his Asian insights.

Goldman's gold medalist

Mike Evans is one of Goldman's biggest hitters and will relocate to Hong Kong in a newly titled position as Chairman of Asia. He will hit the ground running having worked on most of Goldman's biggest equity transactions from the region including the IPOs of China Mobile (termed China Telecom at the time of listing), PetroChina, MTR as well as NTT Docomo and Telstra. He has made over 100 trips to Asia and was one of the few bankers who can claim to have been at the now seminal Hainan Island retreat in 1995 where the Chinese leadership framed their blueprint for forthcoming privatizations.

Indeed, his experience of Chinese privatization and China in general were one of the chief reasons why Hank Paulson is thought to have selected him for this role. Paulson puts great store in Goldman's new JV in China and wants someone running Asia that is well networked in China and knows how things are done.

Indeed, Evans relationships in China go to the very top and his dynamism has even caught the eye of former leaders. Zhu Rongji once told Paulson that if China had 10 people like Evans, the job of privatizing and reforming the world's most populous country would be considerably easier.

Evans has a long track record as an alpha male. The Canadian was an Oxford Blue in rowing and went on to win a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics as a member of the Canadian men's eight team. This was the first time the Canadian team had won a rowing gold and the same crew went on to win at the Lucerne International Regatta in the same year (the Eastern bloc teams participated in this event, although they boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics) - thus proving they were definitively the best men's eight in the world that year.

He joined Goldman - from Salomon Brothers - in 1993 and ran ECM in London. He then moved to New York to co-head equities globally. In 1999 he moved back to London to facilitate the restructuring of the European equities business - and in early 2004 moved back to New York to be sole global head of equities.

He will start his new Asian role in January and will also keeping a divisional position in the global equities division. He has already been in the region in recent weeks to meet all of Goldman's top clients.

The fact that Goldman is sending a top equities guy to run the region would tend to suggest it has no intention of giving up its number one slot in the Asian ECM league table. It would also suggest it is placing its chips very firmly on the fact that equity will continue to be the most important investment banking product to come from the region - and particularly from China.