Blair Pickerell, the high-profile CEO at HSBC Investments, has resigned to join Morgan Stanley Investment Management (MSIM) in a newly created role as managing director and head of the Asia business, based in Hong Kong. He starts in June and will also sit on Morgan StanleyÆs Asia executive committee and the MSIM senior management committee.

The role will not only include funds management but also products that have been transferred into MSIM from the investment bank, including alternative investments, real estate, private equity and infrastructure. The geographic sweep will include Japan, India and Australia.

Morgan Stanley has undergone a reorganisation in which it is splitting Asia and Europe into separate reporting lines and merging functions previously affiliated with the investment bank into MSIM.

Previously, MSIMÆs ex-US operations were centralised out of London under Michael Green. Tony Archer, CEO for Asia ex-Japan/India, reported to him, as did Narayan Ramachandran, who runs India, and Victor Chang in Tokyo û and as did the various European directors.

Now Europe/Middle East/Africa has been put under the charge of Jim Dilworth, who recently joined the firm after 10 years at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, most recently as head of its German operation (Michael Green recently left MSIM). And it has separated Asia, put it on equal footing, and given it to Pickerell.

Pickerell and Dilworth now report to Owen Thomas, president of MSIM in New York, and Pickerell also has a regional reporting line to Hans Schuettler, CEO of Morgan Stanley Asia. Archer, Ramachandran and Chang now report to Pickerell, as do Zain Fancy (real estate) and Chin Chou (private equity).

The move has caught HSBC Investments by surprise. Pickerell reportedly resigned only 10 days ago.

Mark McCombe, London-based CEO of HSBC GroupÆs investment business, says, ôWeÆre fully aware of the situation and on top of it.ö

PickerellÆs departure poses a test for the newly installed McCombe, a veteran of HSBC Private Bank who assumed the global investments role only in March, when Alain Dromer stepped down. (Tomorrow we will run an exclusive interview with McCombe on HSBC InvestmentsÆ strategy for its Asia business.)

ôAm I surprised this has happened? Yes, because this is one of the best jobs in asset management in Asia,ö McCombe says. ItÆs a sentiment that Pickerell once shared: when he took the HSBC role from Paul Chow in May, 2003, he told AsianInvestor it was ôthe biggest job in asset management in Asiaö.

Sources speculate that he was not happy when the following year, HSBC decided to split the asset management business into two, HSBC Investments for the retail and passive businesses, and HSBC Halbis Partners for alpha-generating strategies. Sinopia Asset Management is the firmÆs quantitative fund shop. Pickerell could not be reached by press time for comment.

McCombe notes that Ayaz Ebrahim, former CIO for Asia at Halbis, is about to return to lead the firm after an abortive stint at Deutsche Asset Management. ôHis return is a testament to the team.ö He believes the sweep of HSBC InvestmentÆs business across the region and its powerful distribution power and brand will make PickerellÆs role attractive to many qualified candidates.

Moving to MSIM, Pickerell will now have responsibility for a recently enlarged entity incorporating a broad sweep of asset classes, traditional and alternative.

According to AsianInvestor research, MSIM manages $530 billion globally and $28 billion in Asia Pacific, although that figure may not include some of the recently incorporated fields such as real estate. The firm is now making a push into infrastructure globally, and has been acquiring or taking stakes in hedge funds, including the soon-to-be-launched $1 billion Abax in Hong Kong.

Pickerell joined the Jardine Matheson Group in 1984, and the next year established the Jardine Fleming Asset Management office in Taiwan. He is widely considered a founding father of TaiwanÆs fund management industry (Pickerell is a fluent Mandarin speaker). He has also served at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Jardine Pacific (the conglomerate), and JF Asset ManagementÆs regional business, which he left in early 2003, initially to run his own business in China until HSBC offered him a role a few weeks later.

Under his tenure, HSBC Investments has grown throughout the region. Perhaps his lasting contribution to that organisation is the firmÆs China funds joint venture with the little-known Shanxi Investment Trust.

HSBCÆs attempts to get into China faced many setbacks, often due to regulatory events out of its control, and Pickerell faced criticism that the firm was missing out. The nadir may have been when Bank of Communications, in which HSBC Group has a 19.9% stake, opted to form a funds JV with Schroders instead.

But this may have suited Pickerell just fine: his strategy was to work with a partner that would accept a foreignerÆs direction and advice, not just take the money and the expertise and run. And for HSBC Group, Shanxi Trust represented a diversification strategy, although this may have been accidental: at the time, rumour had it that Pickerell and HSBC Bank did not see eye to eye on China; that the bank was shut out of the talks with Shanxi Trust.

The recent decision by the Chinese government to reclassify BoCom as a state-owned commercial bank û thus denying HSBC the hope to one day take a 40% or greater stake, as one can in theory do with private banks û means that Pickerell and HSBC Investments may have the last laugh. And however chummy the relations between BoCom and Schroders may be, it is obvious which one of them is in control of their funds JV.