Managing Asia

Connections are Everything. My interview with Louis Cheung

I've been asked many times to write something about what I think of the guests I interview on "Managing Asia." After close to eight years hosting the show, my personal encounters with CEOs and senior executives are always good talking points. What better way than to pen my thoughts out in a blog? I'm going to start with the President of Ping An Insurance, one of my guests on a recent trip to Hong Kong.

When you talk to Louis Cheung, you can't help but get a sense of how well connected he is. So far, his connections have served him and his company well. Ping An Insurance's listing, first in Hong Kong and then later in Shanghai, went smoothly. Earlier this year, Ping An made headlines securing half of the asset management business of the Fortis Group for 2.15 billion euro. Before that, news of Ping An's additional share-raising exercise sent shares of U.K. insurers Prudential and Aviva higher on speculation they could be acquisition targets.

Cheung clearly knows he has the ability to move markets and is aware of any impact his comments might have. He is, after all, helping run China's second largest life insurer, and the company has enough capital to buy over anything it wants. As President, he works closely with CEO Peter Ma to drive strategy for the whole group. Ma is considered a heavyweight in China's financial circles and he is leaning on Leung to carve out the company's global footprint.

I spent close to two hours with Leung. Off camera, he's affable and chats fondly about his family and the people he knows. But during the interview, he makes it clear he doesn't want to get too personal and instead wants to focus on what the company is doing. He plays down his role in the company and is modest about what he has achieved. I suspect not to steal the limelight from Ma, the company's founder.

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