Ma Weihua was born in 1949 in Jinzhou, Liaoning province and was one of many students sent to country farms during the Cultural Revolution. Afterwards, Ma was more fortunate, becoming one of the first batch of students permitted to go to university. In 1982 he got his degree in economics from Jilin University and his meteoric rise began with as a junior member of the Planning Commission of Liaoning province. He was directing it within three years.
In 1988 Ma joined the central bank and witnessed the early stages of sector reform. In 1992 he was made president of the central bank’s Hainan branch. He oversaw the first ever closure of a state-owned bank, which he had deemed insolvent.
From 1999 Ma switched from bureaucrat to banker proper, becoming president of China Merchants Bank (CMB), which had started out in 1987 in Shenzhen. Under his leadership he transformed CMB from a small bank burdened by a non-performing loan ratio of 13.3% into one of China’s most profitable. In 2010 earnings rose 41% to Rmb26 billion and its NPL ratio was less than 1%. Ma is said to have encouraged a spirit of salesmanship unexpected from a longterm civil servant. He sent bankers to visit corporate clients (rather than the usual practice of waiting for them to visit the branch). He was also the first to introduce online banking in China in 1999.
Between 2000 and 2006, CMB listed in the A share market, issued convertible bonds and also listed in Hong Kong (as a result, founding shareholder state-owned China Merchants Group today holds 18% of the bank). In 2008 CMB acquired Hong Kong’s Wing Lung Bank for HK$13.9 billion, a bold move during a period of uncertainty. But Ma insisted it was CMB’s opportunity to go international (he also opened a New York branch) and by 2011 Wing Lung was delivering first half profits of HK$973 million.
Need to know
At CMB’s board meeting in June this year the 61 year-old was reappointed president. His next task: to successfully replenish CMB’s capital with a forthcoming $5.4 billion rights issue.
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