Rodney Smyth has resigned as chief financial officer of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels to succeed Richard Pyvis as chief executive officer of investment bank CLSA. For Smyth, banks and banking are nothing new; the 47-year old Australian’s career in the private sector kicked off with a 12 year stint at Citibank, which took him to the Middle East/Africa region, London and Chicago.

The holder of a degree in economics and law, Smyth also has Masters degrees in applied finance, business administration, computer science and practicing accounting  and has been executive general manager of Allen Allen & Hemsley, a commercial law practice in Australia, and chief financial officer of CMPS&F, an engineering and infrastructure company based in Sydney.

On the side, Smyth helped found and has invested in an Australian e-commerce business, which operates as an exchange and receives transaction fees. As a dotcom entrepreneur, he also speaks the lingo. “It’s what’s called in e-commerce a horizontal application. Another example is the payments business – it’s generic across multiple vertical markets,” he told FinanceAsia.com during a recent interview.

Internet wannabes in need of cash should, however, take note: making a beeline for Smyth’s door once he has joined CLSA will likely prove futile unless the business involved already has a presence on the ground. “I believe in what’s being called the clicks and mortar model. I don’t believe there’s much potential long-term for standalone internet businesses – pure internet businesses,” he says.

At The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Smyth was in charge of the company’s finances during a difficult period. The company, which owns and operates The Peninsula Group of luxury hotels, has lagged other hotel groups in recovering from the Asian financial crisis. In part, this stems from the company’s refusal to compete on price, most notably at its flagship The Peninsula hotel in Hong Kong, on the basis that to do so might devalue the brand name. The price paid, possibly unavoidable, was that the company’s shares were dropped from the Hang Seng Index in November 1999. 

At CLSA, Smyth will have to try and maintain the investment bank’s position as the number one equity brokerage and research house in Asia as well as bring his talents to bear on developing new business areas. CLSA chairman Gary Coull says: “[Smyth] has a strong banking and financial background as well as entrepreneurial and e-commerce experience which is ideal for the next phase of CLSA’s development.”

The outgoing chief executive officer Richard Pyvis will remain with CLSA until his retirement next year.