Paul Calello, Credit Suisse's investment bank chairman, who died Tuesday in New York of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was the definition of a gentleman, a role model and trailblazer. He was 49 years old and is survived by his wife Jane deBevoise and their four children.

"Listen to people talk about Paul and you'll hear a lot of superlatives. Anyone who had the privilege to work with him will tell you he was fair, respected others, had a fantastic sense of humour and was a great businessman. Paul had that rarest of qualities: he brought out the best in others," said Tom Grimmer, the former head of Asia-Pacific corporate communication for Credit Suisse First Boston, who is now a managing partner for China at Kreab Gavin Anderson.

Indeed, “bringing out the best in others”, “role model”, and "gentleman” were descriptions of Calello repeated by many over the years – not just yesterday. And not just by people within Credit Suisse, but by his competitors as well. As Robert Morse, the former CEO of Citi’s Asia-Pacific institutional clients group (ICG), put it: “If you were going to lose to someone, you wanted to lose to Paul because he was such a nice guy.”

Morse, who is currently the chairman and CEO of Primus Financial Holdings, summed up a view expressed by many yesterday: “His passing was sadly expected but still came as an enormous shock when it happened.”

That shock, of course, is being profoundly felt at his firm, Credit Suisse, which has stated that plans to commemorate Calello’s life and accomplishments will be announced shortly.

“Paul Calello was an outstanding leader and a down-to-earth, very human colleague who forged strong relationships and made a positive difference in the world around him. We will miss him greatly, but his spirit and accomplishments will remain a part of Credit Suisse. Our thoughts are with his family today," said Brady Dougan, CEO of Credit Suisse group, in a statement.

"Paul made an enormous contribution to Credit Suisse and the financial industry over many years," Dougan continued. "He played a pivotal role in the creation of the equity derivatives market, and as a founding member of Credit Suisse financial products, helped build it into one of the most significant derivatives firms in the industry. He ran many important businesses for Credit Suisse and expanded our presence globally, most notably in Asia-Pacific, where he led Credit Suisse’s dramatic growth across the region. In 2007, Paul was named CEO of the investment bank and did an incredible job, working with his management team, to navigate the market crisis and bring the franchise out of the downturn stronger and well positioned for the new environment." 

Indeed Calello has often been cited by peers and the media as the banker who put Asia on the global banking map. If you headed up a team here, you could be destined for the corner office in New York or London. After all, Calello had been the CEO of Credit Suisse’s Asia-Pacific region, with responsibilities for private banking, investment banking and asset management – and then moved to New York to become CEO of the investment bank in 2007. In June this year he was appointed chairman, with Eric Varvel officially becoming the CEO (Varvel was previously CEO of Europe, Middle East and Africa and had been acting CEO of the investment bank since September 2009 when Calello started to undergo medical treatment). Many bankers have for some time clearly aspired to be “the next Calello”.

As Deutsche Bank’s CEO for Asia-Pacific, Robert Rankin, said: “Paul was a dedicated, professional and highly respected competitor. What really set him apart, however, was his unique strength of character, balance and tremendous breadth as an individual. His experiences and success in Asia brought him great respect and served him well in his outstanding international career. He was a role model to many and will be greatly missed.”

One of the traits that several people say they sought to emulate was his down-to-earth normality, even when he was doing something exceptional. Consider how he would laugh that he ran the Boston Marathon when he was 15 years old in a pair of Stan Smith tennis shoes and cut-off shorts. That takes motivation, and focus, but he also saw the silly side of it all.

“I’d add that he had balance in his life – balance between work and family, between accomplishments and family,” said Morse. “His sense of giving back was strong -- not just in philanthropy, but to his friends, colleagues and clients as well.”

It’s the everyday kind things that Calello did that made him stand out in an industry that is often not showered with praise. Sheel Kohli, Credit Suisse's head of corporate communications for Asia-Pacific, used to go running with Calello after work. In 2007 when Kohli had a severe cycling accident, it was Calello who was first among his co-workers to visit him in the hospital. “He was human, caring and kind…which is really quite unusual,” said Kohli. “And yes, he was also a fantastic banker.”

Calello’s big-picture giving-back is equally well known: He served as a trustee of the Credit Suisse Foundation and was a member of the board of overseers of the Columbia Business School (Calello earned his undergraduate degree from Villanova University and an MBA from Columbia Business School). He was also on the board of directors of the New York Philharmonic.

In October this year, Columbia Business School announced the establishment of the Paul Calello Professorship in Leadership and Ethics. This permanent professorship was endowed by a small group of Credit Suisse colleagues who worked with Calello over the years, and who wanted to honour his contribution to the bank and its people. The Calello Professorship will advance academic scholarship and research on two aspects of business life Calello exemplified throughout his career – leadership and ethics.

Prior to joining Credit Suisse, Calello worked in the global markets group of Bankers Trust in New York and Tokyo. Before that, he worked at the Federal Reserve System in the monetary and economic policy research group in Boston and Washington DC.

Calello joined Credit Suisse in 1990 and was named to the investment bank's executive board in 1997. From 1992 to 2000, he served as global head of commodities and fixed-income derivatives and from 1997 to 2002, as global head of equity derivatives and convertible bonds. In 2002, he was appointed chairman and CEO of Credit Suisse's investment bank in Asia-Pacific, and in 2006 assumed responsibility for all of the bank's operations in the region. During his time in Asia, Calello was personally involved in many transactions that have been pivotal to the development of the region's capital markets.

As Calello wrote for FinanceAsia earlier this year when we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our website: “From my vantage point as a past CEO for Credit Suisse in Asia-Pacific and, now, CEO for Credit Suisse Investment Bank, there may never have been a period of more dramatic and transformative change than the first 10 years of FinanceAsia.com. Asia has gone from a region thirsting for Western capital to a provider of capital for economies all over the world…I have had the privilege to witness several remarkable milestones in Asia's transformation first-hand.”

It was like him to phrase it that he was privileged to witness change, rather than to underscore he was a man making history.

I remember regularly sitting down with Calello at the China Club for breakfast for his off-the-record take on what was happening in the markets. They were never pitches, indeed sometimes Credit Suisse wouldn't even come up in the conversation, but nor were they ever slams on competitors. He was just excited about the story that was unfolding.

But for me the most poignant memory of Calello is when I ran into him outside Cathay Pacific’s lounge at JFK airport in New York. I was returning to Hong Kong from my father’s funeral and was red-eyed and shaken. Even though he was flying first class and I wasn’t, he sat with me in the regular frequent-flyer lounge, and talked me through what I was feeling and what I would be feeling. His advice to me was to cry, for sure, but to then focus on the living. In keeping with his counsel, we offer our condolences to Calello’s family and many friends.