BlackRock has hired HSBC veteran Mark McCombe to replace Rohit Bhagat as Asia-Pacific chairman “to accelerate the growth of its business, brand and reputation in the region”.

The world’s largest asset manager has seen its regional assets under management drop this year, from $391 billion at the start of 2011 – 11.3% of its global AUM – to $372.8 billion at June 30.

Asked when McCombe will be starting, a BlackRock spokeswoman replies only: “No later than January 2012.” He will take the regional reins from Bhagat, whom BlackRock says will work on the transition before pursuing other opportunities.

"After the next few weeks [Bhagat] will be available [to work on transition] as needed," says the BlackRock spokeswoman, indicating that McCombe will likely be starting sooner rather than later.

HSBC has confirmed that Anita Fung, its head of global banking and markets for Asia-Pacific, will take over as chief executive in Hong Kong from today. It comes after the bank said last week that it would cut 3,000 jobs in Hong Kong over the next three years.

“Mark adds additional leadership to our regional team that will help us to accelerate the growth of our business, brand and reputation in Asia, commensurate with our capabilities and the vitally important role that Asia is playing in global financial markets,” the BlackRock spokeswoman tells AsianInvestor.

She notes the hire is a “sign of a strong commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and the strategy we’ve been pursuing” and adds that the firm will benefit from his experience and leadership.

McCombe will report to BlackRock’s chairman and chief executive Laurence Fink and will become a member of the firm’s global executive committee and global operating committee.

Given that he had been with HSBC for over 20 years and was seen as a potential successor to HSBC Group chief executive Stuart Gulliver, his capture can be seen as a surprise and a coup.

McCombe was working as CEO of HSBC Hong Kong, spearheading the group’s drive to develop its position in the internationalisation of the renminbi. He and his Hong Kong team also worked at expanding its range of products including mutual funds, mortgages, debt issuance and insurance.

Prior to that he served for three years as London-based CEO of HSBC Global Asset Management, the largest bank-owned asset manager in Asia (ex-Japan and Australia). The business has a strong presence in emerging market equities and fixed income and also launched HSBC’s ETF effort. It is now headed by Joanna Munro, who recently relocated to Asia.

McCombe has also served as CEO of HSBC Private Bank (UK), overseeing wealth management in the UK and Northern Europe; CEO of HSBC Private Bank (France); and deputy CEO of HSBC Turkey. He has also held a variety of roles for HSBC in the Middle East and Hong Kong. He was also awarded Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s new year’s honours list in 2006.

As for the outgoing Bhagat, the BlackRock spokeswoman says that his immediate focus will be on spending some time with his family.

“When the firm asked Rohit to assume his current role in late 2009, BlackRock asked for a two-year commitment and established a very specific set of objectives for Rohit and the Asia-Pacific business,” the spokeswoman says. “He has done a tremendous job helping to build our business in the region and we have achieved most of the objectives we set for the business two years ago.”

BlackRock highlighted Bhagat’s chief achievements as leading the integration of the Barclays Global Investors’ businesses in Asia-Pacific, strengthening the leadership team, delivering business growth in a challenging environment and enhancing BlackRock’s Asia-Pacific investment capabilities, product line-up, risk management and infrastructure.

The headline hires during his tenure include Masato Degawa as country head for Japan; Andrew Swan as head of Asian equities within the portfolio management group; Sandra Lee as head of iShares for Asia ex-Japan; and Albert Yeh as COO for iShares Asia-Pacific.