Principal Global Investors in management rejig

The firm names Kirk West in a new role as head of international offices. He also replaces Andrea Muller temporarily as Asia chief as she relocates to the US, but he will seek a new Asia CEO as well as more third-party resources.
Principal Global Investors in management rejig

US-based Principal Global Investors has unveiled an international management rejig that will see it seek to appoint a new Asia chief executive, likely later this year.

Kirk West has taken on a newly created role as executive director and head of international offices, which encompasses responsibility for all of its non-US businesses. He will be based in Singapore and starts in the office on Monday.

The firm’s regional CEOs in Asia, Australia, Japan, Europe and the Middle East will all report into him. West himself reports to PGI chief executive Jim McCaughan.

But for the near-future West will wear two hats, taking on the additional role of head of Asia. He comes in to replace Andrea Muller, who has served in the role for the past five years.

Muller has relocated from Singapore to the US, where she assumes West’s previous job as executive director and head of international distribution.

She has spent the past 15 years in Asia including in previous roles, with her two children having grown up in Singapore but having since moved to the US.

“I think [Muller] was looking for the time and opportunity to go back to the US,” West told AsianInvestor, adding the switch had been under discussion internally for several months.

Speaking from a strategic point of view, he said the driver for the change was to establish a senior management group offshore that reports into him, with non-US business having seen “significant” growth over the past few years.

According to AsianInvestor figures, set to be released in the forthcoming February magazine edition, PGI has $29 billion in AUM in Asia Pacific and has year-on-year growth of 37%. That represents 8.9% of PGI’s $327 billion in AUM.

The management switch represents a return to a former stomping ground for West, whose family is based in Sydney but who has spent much of the past four years on the road, predominantly in the US. As recently as four years ago he was serving as managing director for PGI’s Asia (ex-Japan) business.

But his revived Asia leadership will only be temporary. “While I am going to wear two hats in future, my intention is to appoint someone else for the Asia CEO role,” he explained.

“I want to give some thought to how I best structure the role in Asia going forward. I have done the role before and I may make some changes to it.

“Some time during 2015 I will work out how I want to structure that, then I will commence a search. But there will be nothing imminent.”

In terms of the future plans of PGI, which runs a stable of 17 boutique firms selling across the institutional and sub-advisory segments, West stressed the firm would continue to invest in its third-party distribution.

“In our new roles both I and [Muller] will look to add resources to third-party distribution and gain market share in the high-net-worth channel. That will be the area from a development perspective where we will spend most of our time.”

He noted that PGI only had a couple of staff dedicated to third-party distribution in Asia at present. “We will be looking to add senior sales resources,” he added.

Muller, who has served as the firm’s Asia CEO since joining in 2010, has taken on the title executive director and head of international distribution, effective from January 1 this year.

She now oversees sales, marketing, relationship management and client services across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

She has led PGI’s growth in Asia, building out its investment teams, including global emerging markets in readiness for renminbi-denominated qualified foreign institutional investor (RQFII) business, as reported.

However, it should be noted that PGI suffered a string of departures that affected its global emerging markets and Asia coverage back in 2012, as reported.

PGI has further been adding headcount to its real estate investment trust and multi-asset teams.

It is expected to seek to capitalise on the launch of the Hong Kong-China mutual recognition scheme, now expected in the first quarter of this year.

PGI has a handful of Hong Kong-domiciled funds that it would look to passport, while Principal International's China JV – CCB Principal Asset Management – has about 40 products that could be sold the other way.

Muller in particular had focused on building Principal International’s JVs in China and Malaysia (CIMB-Principal Asset Management).

Before joining PGI she served as Asia-Pacific head of Fitch Ratings, managing director at UBS in both Singapore and France, and European partner at Shearman and Sterling.

For his part West has held a number of roles with PGI. He joined Bankers Trust Australia in 1998 and the Principal Financial Group the following year through its acquisition of BT Funds Management.

At PGI he has served as managing director of Asia (ex-Japan) and CEO of both the Australian and European businesses.

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