China International Fund Management, JP Morgan's Shanghai-based joint venture, confirmed yesterday that chief executive Mandy Wang is stepping down after five years at the firm. Wang's deputy general manager Fu Fan is also departing to take a general manager role at Chinese shareholder Shanghai International Trust Corporation (Sitico).
China International is 51% owned by Sitico and 49% owned by JP Morgan Asset Management. Sitico is an investment arm that belongs to the Shanghai city government, but is ultimately controlled by the Shanghai arm of the state-owned Assets Supervision & Administration Commission, whose board reports to the State Council of China.
The announcement marks the second recent significant leadership shake-up at a fund management firm in Sitico's portfolio. Last Friday, Huaan Fund Management, in which Sitico is also a dominant shareholder, announced the departure of CEO Yu Miaogen and said it is seeking a replacement.
The concurrent senior departures are drawing raised eyebrows in Shanghai. Geoff Lewis, JP Morgan's head of investment services in Asia, did not return calls seeking comment. The firm's Asia spokeswoman Judi Kelly denies there is pressure from Sitico to overhaul the business's management. She would not comment on suggested names, but says JP Morgan will retain the power to appoint a replacement for Wang and will send a candidate to Shanghai shortly.
Across the strait, market gossip in Taipei suggests two possible candidates. Some think Eddie Chang, current country head for JPMorgan's Taiwan asset management business, might step in and swap roles with Wang. Chang did not return calls by press time. At HSBC Investments in Taiwan, colleagues of chairman Jerry Lee, another potential candidate, confirm he departed the firm two weeks ago.
Wang has been a key leadership figure since China International's founding in 2004. Even prior to her appointment at the Shanghai JV, she was viewed as one of the most formidable women in fund distribution.
The Shanghai firm went from being a greenfield set-up five years ago to having launched some of the most revered funds in the industry. With Rmb57.43 billion ($8.4 billion) under management as at the end of the third quarter, the firm is the 11th largest in the industry by AUM. (Its sister company, Huaan, is eighth.)
China International's headquarters -- fronting a sharp twist in the Huangpu River in Pudong -- was once said to be the site of the best feng shui in the city. However, the firm has been plagued by a series of unfortunate incidences since 2007.
A fund manager was caught in a high-profile front-running scandal in 2007. Then the firm's founding CIO Lv Jun left to join an underground private fund. The following year, its QDII fund (which at Rmb100 billion broke an all-time record for fundraising in the industry in 2007) became the industry's worst-performing product. In 2009, Sun Yanqun, the CIO who replaced Lv, died from a stress-related stomach ulcer over the summer. Most recently, the firm lost a chief compliance officer to a small competing firm. As of September 30, net outflows from the firm amount to Rmb11.5 billion.
When this correspondent visited China International in July, Wang admitted to being torn with stress as a result of severe investor mistrust after the tumbling performance of its QDII fund.
In an email response to AsianInvestor, she says of her five years in Shanghai: "It's been a great journey," adding, "I'm happy to complete my term and satisfied to have experienced it."
Wang has become the industry's second longest serving foreign shareholder-appointed CEO in the industry. The record currently belongs to Tian Rencan, CEO at Fortis Haitong (now part of BNP Paribas).
Peter Alexander, principal at Z-Ben Advisors, quips that roles like these are the most thankless jobs in the Chinese fund industry.