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Lourdin leads Pictet to number one

Lourdin leads Pictet to number one

200-year-old Swiss bank ranks at top for Bahamas and Caribbean

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
June 27, 2007
June 27, 2007
Shonalee King-Johnson

Yves Lourdin’s approach to leadership is straightforward. “As the captain, you have to be the first one in and the last one out.” For the former Swiss army officer, now president and managing director of Pictet Bank & Trust, the battle is fought in the world’s financial markets.

From the looks of things, Lourdin and his troops are winning big in Latin America and the Caribbean. Under his direction, the 200-year-old Swiss bank took top rating in Euromoney magazine’s 2007 financial survey, ranking number one in private banking services in The Bahamas and the Caribbean. Poll participants included 558 private bankers judging their peers on service and performance. The bank also took top local honours for best in relationship management for clients within the high-net-worth ($10 million to $30 million) and ultra- high-net-worth (greater than $30 million) categories.

“It is certainly a great honour to be voted number one in private banking, especially knowing that the best international banks are represented,” Lourdin says. “We do not have a special recipe. The success of our local organization is due to a fantastic team that works hard to better serve our clients, listening to their needs and providing them with the best products available.” With a staff nearing 100 and current assets under management topping off at $11 billion, the firm attracts high-quality employees and maintains strong relationships with clients.

The Bahamas branch services high-net-worth individuals in Latin America and Canada with some business in Europe. “Our organization is divided into four principal business lines: global custody services, portfolio management, trading, and legal services,” explains Lourdin. “Each business line has its own team. Each head is a member of our executive management team.”

In 2000, Pictet teamed up with Oceanic Bank & Trust Ltd, investing $30 million in the construction of new offices at Bayside Executive Park. The 12-acre purchase and construction of state-of-the-art facilities on West Bay Street, with an open atrium, marble floors and conference rooms with stunning ocean views, signalled strong confidence in the Bahamian financial industry. “This was the first time in the bank’s 200-year history that we had invested in offices outside of Switzerland,” says Lourdin. “In today’s world, there’s a need for state-of-the-art facilities. We are now five minutes away from the airport, which is convenient for clients. We’re also leasing out space to other banking facilities. It was a good investment.”

New World order
In 1978, when Lourdin arrived in Nassau, the 25-year-old trader was one of the first men headed into battle. Back then “state-of-the-art” meant computers that took up an entire room and high-speed communication was dependent on how fast a fax could be transmitted from Nassau to Geneva. The instant messages and video conferences of today were unimaginable in the late 1970s; however, the technology available in Nassau at that time surpassed that of other offshore jurisdictions.

“We chose Nassau because all of the ingredients were in place: good communications, good medical support, proximity to the United States and reliable transportation,” recalls Lourdin, who has spent more than half of his life in The Bahamas helping high-net-worth individuals manage their wealth. Lourdin and his wife Matty have raised three children in Nassau and now consider it their home. “I don’t have a choice. I fell in love with this country and I want to stay here. This will definitely be where I retire.”

After three decades, Lourdin is still at the forefront of new business and innovation at Pictet. “I started my banking career in Geneva as a trader in the US equity market under the direction of Jean-François Pictet, the bank director and head of trading.” Recognizing Lourdin’s potential, Pictet sent the young trader to train in London for a year at Goldman Sachs and ScotiaMcLeod. Lourdin met his wife, a student from Nicaragua, there.

“Mr Pictet had an excellent vision and work ethic. He was always there to answer any questions,” recalls Lourdin. Under his tutelage, Lourdin honed his business skills at a rapid pace. He also expanded his language skills, learning English and Spanish to complement his native French and acquiring a working knowledge of German.

In the late 1970s, Pictet recognized the potential of the Latin American market and sought an office where they could grow this sector of the business. The Nassau office grew out of this need and Lourdin was sent to assist managing director Christian Malaer. Pictet set up offices in Charlotte House in downtown Nassau, launching with $50 million in assets. Four people—Lourdin, his managing director and two Bahamians—manned the new office.

“Our growing Latin American clientele made The Bahamas an ideal place to establish an offshore banking facility,” says Lourdin, who worked closely under the managing director. “The country was politically sound. You have to remember, this was during the cold war era in Europe. Any country south of Cuba, including Cayman Islands, was not suitable. The Bahamas was extremely well situated. … We realized that there were also a lot of Europeans living here in The Bahamas who required our services and so our business increased steadily here in Nassau.”

Play hard, work harder
In 1982, four years after arriving in Nassau, Lourdin became managing director of Pictet’s Bahamas operations. In 1996, he became president of Pictet Bank & Trust. For him, working in The Bahamas has clear advantages. “On this side of the world, by far, I think Nassau is the best offshore financial centre. Even though we work hard, there is this kind of balance between professional life and your after-hours life.”

There are a few drawbacks to living and working in a place where the sun shines more than it rains, however. Lourdin’s colleagues back in Europe have a hard time believing the seasoned fisherman does not give into the temptation to spend half the day on the water. “Many people do not really believe that you can be extremely busy in Nassau,” he jokes. “They believe that you are under a coconut tree somewhere relaxing or playing golf.”

Lourdin’s “first in, last out” approach to leadership makes for long hours at the office. It’s an environment in which his army discipline stands him in good stead. He pushes his team to strive for high-quality service and innovative ways to stay ahead of the competition. The bank executive could not imagine finding the time to take in a round on the course, he says. “I don’t play golf. I don’t have the time. I am here to manage my business and to promote our services. I am certainly not here to improve my golf handicap.”

In 30 years Lourdin has managed to squeeze in a few long weekends unwinding on his boat. He loves the water, which is perhaps why the boardroom at Pictet’s offices takes full advantage of Nassau’s crisp ocean views. “The Bahamas has the best water for fishing. I deep-sea fish. I’ve been to almost every island. I can golf in Europe but it’s best to fish here.”

Team player
The ultimate team player, Lourdin believes that surrounding himself with top people in the industry has led to continued growth at Pictet. “I do not believe in a one-man show, especially in our field. You must have the right people in the right jobs. You can only impose specific objectives on your team if you first show the way by being extremely demanding of yourself.”

The executive feeds off of the energy from his office. Pictet’s goals are executed by a five-member executive team—Jan Mezulanik, Marilyn Cambridge, Shawn Forbes, Pierre Colle and Lawrence Glinton. More than 40 per cent of the bank’s current staff has been with Pictet for 10 or more years. Executive team member Pierre Colle, who heads the independent asset management department, believes this stability has helped set Pictet above other private banking facilities in the market. “It is important to have a certain amount of continuity,” says Colle. “I think that the exchange of employees at other institutions is so high. Mr Lourdin has been here almost 30 years. He has invested himself in the bank. We have continuity here and that’s what sets us apart.”

Developing the talents of highly qualified Bahamians has also helped Pictet retain top employees. “We have talented personnel here as far as Bahamians are concerned,” says senior vice president Marilyn Cambridge. “Right now 90 per cent of our staff is Bahamian. We attract qualified persons returning to The Bahamas and we train staff on a regular basis.”

In the past five years, the bank has expanded its portfolio to include estate planning and trust services in order to meet the changing needs of clients. Pictet Overseas, a new division in the bank headed by Bahamian trust officer Shawn Forbes, continues to see significant growth. “We are finding more innovative ways to service our clients within the bounds of legislation,” says Forbes. “We try to be proactive in our approach to this expansion. We don’t want to offer a generic product. We want to continue offering complete services while respecting each client’s individuality.”

Growing assets under management from $50 million in year one to $11 billion today speaks to the leadership skills of Lourdin and the selling power of his team. The fact that the company chose The Bahamas for its external operations also demonstrates confidence in the country as a strong international financial centre. “The Bahamas has an extremely good selection of top-quality institutions here and I think that adds tremendous credibility to the jurisdiction,” says senior vice president Mezulanik. “We have world-recognized institutions in The Bahamas. Pictet has been in business for 200 years in Europe. We have been here going on 30 years. That adds credibility.”

The modus operandi at Pictet’s Bahamas office follows closely the operation standards set by its parent company. “Whether you go to a Pictet office in Geneva or Montreal or Singapore you can find people who represent the philosophies of the head office and I think that is very important to the success of our brand,” says Lourdin. “Pictet Bahamas is not a bank within a bank. It is a part of a group.”

His team is on the same wavelength. “I think that at Pictet it is always recognized that you are looking at the big picture,” says Mezulanik. “What is good for Pictet may be booking business outside of Nassau. We are very much a part of a global organization. What’s key is our common value.”

The way forward
With steady growth and well-established roots in The Bahamas’ financial community, Lourdin and his team anticipate an upward trend for Pictet Bahamas in the future. Although retirement is not in his immediate plans, the team’s captain is making preparations to turn over leadership to his capable staff. “My executive team and I try to identify talented persons early on. In order to look to the future, we must identify the people who can take over our jobs in the next 10 to 15 years.”

When he steps away from the front line for good, Lourdin will work as a mentor for those heading the company that he helped to grow. The day will come when deep-sea fishing for marlins and wahoos off the Bimini coast will be the only thing on Lourdin’s “to-do” list. Whenever he retires, one thing is certain: the Swiss native plans on living close enough to drop into the office every now and again. “My wife and I have decided to make Nassau our home. Our three children grew up here and this is where they come back to. We love the people of The Bahamas. This is our adopted country.”

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