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Tokyo Thierry goes native

Why would the head of a big American investment bank's flourishing Tokyo operation want to become vice chairman of an ambitious but merely midsize Japanese bank?

A lot of Thierry Porté's rivals and colleagues have been asking that question since the well-known banker gave up the top spot at Morgan Stanley Japan to join Shinsei Bank this month.

Of course, Shinsei is no ordinary Japanese bank (Institutional Investor, August 2002). In its previous existence as Long-Term Credit Bank, it got into trouble and was nationalized in 1998. After Tokyo spent some ¥3.8 trillion ($35 billion) cleaning up its books, the bank was bought in 2000 by an investor consortium led by U.S. private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings. Today this most Westernized of Japanese banks is in the forefront of efforts to reform the country's banking system.

The 46-year-old Porté, who has spent his career to date at Morgan Stanley and run the firm's Japanese business for eight years, will report to Shinsei's legendary chairman and CEO, Masamoto Yashiro. The 74-year-old Yashiro built Citibank's thriving Japanese retail banking franchise before joining Shinsei three years ago and launching a major revamping.

Porté says he'll be working "closely" with Yashiro on strategy. No doubt the American will be contributing to the bank's planning for its estimated $2 billion IPO, provisionally slated for the first quarter of next year.

The nearly three-decade age gap between the chairman and the vice chairman has prompted some speculation that Porté will eventually succeed Yashiro. Porté won't talk about that, but skeptical foreign bankers in Tokyo say it's unlikely that a gaijin would ever be allowed to run a Japanese financial institution -- even one owned by Western interests.

Second on Porté's to-do list, after helping Yashiro launch the IPO, is developing a better command of Japanese. Even after two Tokyo stints totaling a combined 13 years, he concedes that his Japanese is "in need of improvement."

Over at Morgan Stanley Japan, meanwhile, control passes to current chairman Kensuke Hotta. Says Porté, "I am happy to be leaving at a high point in Japan."