Morgan Stanley Investment Management intends for Asia institutional sales to be led by a newly hired executive based in London. This continues a shift to centralise MSIM sales, client service and other activities, while trimming regional layers of executives.

The firm’s strategic decision to leave the retail funds space prompted its Asia CEO Blair Pickerell to leave for Nikko Asset Management. Sandra Lee, the number two there, has also resigned from MSIM as managing director in Hong Kong.

Her departure was made easier by the decision at MSIM to hand the running of ex-North American institutional and intermediary sales to Paul Price, who has recently joined the firm in London. He heads teams in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as well as Asia. The move has been in the works for several months, says someone familiar with the situation.

Price was previously global head of the institutional business at Pioneer Global Asset Management, and has also run the ex-North America business at MFS Investment Management.

A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman, asked about the lack of replacements for Pickerell and Lee in Asia, says, “With the hire of Paul Price in London overseeing EMEA and Asia, this is another clear indication that we are beefing up our global and international businesses in MSIM. Paul's hire follows a series of senior executive hires in London and New York like Greg Fleming, Navtej Nandra and Lisa Jones. This may well mean more hires going forward in Asia.”

(Fleming, a former Merrill Lynch president and COO, was hired this summer in New York to run MSIM, and brought on board Nandra to head MSIM International and Jones to head international sales.)

The most senior MSIM person left operating in this region is said by several sources to be Inma Diaz Garcia, who handles relations with institutional investors in China. She reports locally to Morgan Stanley’s China CEO Wei Christianson. She had also previously reported functionally to Lee, but this line has reportedly shifted to Jones, global head of sales at MSIM in New York. Price also reports to her.

People familiar with the firm say all client servicing is being centralised under Jones, instead of being handled regionally or locally.

The Morgan Stanley spokeswoman in Hong Kong accepts the MSIM business globally is “in transition” but argues that centralising operations in London under a new team of experienced execs is developing “a feeling of positive momentum globally and certainly with employees in Asia”.

As for Lee, she remains on gardening leave with MSIM and is expected to resurface in November. Contrary to popular speculation, she is not joining Pickerell at Nikko. The two worked together at JF Asset Management and HSBC Investments, as well as at MSIM. However she is not at liberty to disclose her destination.