Bridging East and West
In a career spanning multiple cities, alumnus Nicolas Aguzin is focused on strengthening economies and financial markets.
Please tell us about your current role as CEO of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) and what lies ahead.
I was extremely happy at J.P. Morgan and had spent all my career enjoying being part of one of the world’s largest and most influential financial organizations, so it was not easy to consider other opportunities. It was always going to take something very special to attract me away from the firm. And HKEX was that – another very influential, large financial organization, but this time a stock exchange group, with a major regulatory and policy role and a pivotal position that helps to bridge connections between East and West.
Since joining HKEX in May 2021, I have been incredibly busy. I have met people from across the business, and the talent and opportunity here are amazing.
The most exciting opportunity that lies ahead of me relates to Hong Kong’s unique geographical position at the heart of East meets West, at a time when Chinese capital markets are set to grow to more than $100 trillion USD over the next 10-15 years. The road ahead is a super exciting one, but I am sure it will not always be straight forward. Since joining HKEX, I’ve been focusing on areas such as our unique role as the largest offshore Renminbi trading and clearing center, on our development as Asia’s risk management hub, on our growing offshore China A-share ecosystem, and on the strength of our IPO market.
Your career path with J.P. Morgan spanned the Corporate & Investment Bank and the Private Bank, across Buenos Aires, New York and Hong Kong. How did this influence you, professionally and personally?
I started at J.P. Morgan in the Buenos Aires office in 1990. I’m from Argentina, so I was a local employee. After 1996, I was based in New York, covering all of Latin America and dealing with around 10 markets. In 2012, I moved to Asia, overseeing 17 markets, each with vastly different cultures, languages and customs. And then I moved to the international private bank, which required me to deal with countries all around the world.
Over this period, I developed a perspective that was increasingly global, giving me the opportunity to understand our business, our markets and the world from many different points of view. You learn a little bit from every culture, and you can apply that in other places. This was critical in shaping who I am today.
What skills or learnings from your J.P. Morgan experience has helped you in your new role at HKEX?
At J.P. Morgan, I learned how to be an effective manager, to lead large groups of colleagues. When I was running Latin America, I had a business that involved around 2,000 people. When I ran Asia, and later the international Private Bank, it was a lot more. This experience helped hone my management and communication skills, and gave me a lot of experience in motivating and inspiring people. This is especially useful now, during the pandemic, when you have to do many things from a distance.
During my time at J.P. Morgan, I had the opportunity to interact quite a bit with Jamie Dimon, who gave me a unique perspective on leading a large business. I was always particularly impressed by the fact that he always had time for people and that he had a lot of discipline. He always followed up if he said he would or if it was important. I remember he would carry a folded piece of paper in the inside pocket of his jacket all the time where he wrote down his notes and things that needed following up. Even today, I do the same. It was a privilege to observe and learn from his leadership and many others at J.P. Morgan, during my more than 30 years with the firm.
When you reflect on that 31-year career at J.P. Morgan, can you point to a particularly rewarding experience or a favorite memory?
J.P. Morgan is a place where being genuine is rewarded. In the three decades I was there, I had the opportunity to grow with the organization, and I learned so much from the people around me, because you are always being challenged. And very importantly, everything there is done with a sense of purpose: you work within a context of community, while being surrounded by people that have a similar purpose. In this sense, it has a lot of similarities with my experience here at HKEX. We too are a purpose-driven organization, with good people, wanting to make a difference. That is inspiring.
What originally drew you to the financial sector, and what do you see as the greatest opportunity in financial services in the APAC region?
You know, I always thought I would be a doctor like my father. How our youthful plans change! It was at St. George’s College in Argentina that I discovered my interest for the business world, starting a decades-long adventure that brought me all the way to Hong Kong and HKEX. I’m humbled and excited about my new role because we are at the doorstep of the single greatest opportunity for the financial industry today: China and the growth potential of its economy and capital markets.
What would you say is the most valuable trait for an effective leader?
There's no one way of being an effective leader. Of course, there are some basic qualities required, such as hard work, commitment, having high ethical standards, but one of the most important things in my view is to be authentic. There are different styles and different ways of achieving great results. That's why I say that you have to be yourself, that you have to be authentic. To this I will add that it’s very important to lead by example. Don't expect people to do things that you're not willing to do yourself.
When you reflect on your career, what has helped you stay energized and focused?
You need to have a very solid foundation to support yourself. For me, that means prioritizing my family and my health, and being mentally and spiritually grounded. All these things allow me to maintain consistency in work in the long run.
There were many tough periods in my career at J.P. Morgan, where business was not as good or where things did not work out as we expected, and being responsible for the bad times as well as the good times, certainly makes you more resilient, more robust, and a better manager and leader, for sure.
When people look at someone’s resume/CV, they only see the good things, and most of the time they don’t know that a successful story has setbacks. I was one of the last people in my class to be promoted from Associate to Vice President. But I was one of the first to be promoted from Vice President to Managing Director. So sometimes, it’s the setbacks and the lessons you learn along the way that enable you to outperform later on.
You have lived and worked in a number of cities and now you reside in Hong Kong. How do you describe it?
Hong Kong is probably the best city that I've ever lived in. It's exciting, and the melting pot of people and cultures is exhilarating. It’s also beautiful, has immense charm and energy, with wonderful food and good weather. However, perhaps the most attractive quality about Hong Kong is the important feeling of safety here. It's a great city to live in.
When you're not working, what do you enjoy doing?
I like playing golf, hiking and running. I have run the New York Marathon, which now I look back on with pride and enjoyment. Health is very important to me, and I make an effort to work out every day. I also love technology and I like to keep up with the latest trends in areas like the space industry. Now that I’m at HKEX, I'm looking at areas like digital assets which are fascinating too – as they are at the interface of technology, finance, disruption. There’s so much in the world to learn about these days.
Any words of wisdom for fellow alumni or your former colleagues at J.P. Morgan?
I would say that you should take advantage of being part of such a great institution. There is so much talent, so many opportunities, so many challenges to tackle. It’s really exciting. In terms of building a career, the breadth of J.P. Morgan’s products and geographical presence presents so many opportunities for those hungry to learn and grow, whether you are junior or senior. One of the things I love about J.P. Morgan is that the company is focused on building for the long-term and promotes an environment that rewards innovation, particularly in regards to new initiatives and trends. It’s a great place to have a career, and to learn. I loved working for J.P. Morgan, and have made many lifelong friends there.