CLSA CLSA Capital Partners

SCMP

Far-sighted financier who left the newsroom for the boardroom
Sunday, October 29, 2006
KEVIN SINCLAIR

As a young reporter in Hong Kong in the 1970s, Gary Coull knew a good story. He wrote many for the South China Morning Post, where he started in 1977, and later for the Far Eastern Economic Review.

But the astute Canadian graduate soon realised that there were other ways to use the information he so adeptly gathered from bankers and financiers.

When Jim Walker, a friend and former colleague on the Post's business desk suggested in 1983 that Coull try his hand as a broker, the journalist took the plunge.

It proved a wise career move.

For years, Coull presided over Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia (CLSA), which had broad autonomy from parent Credit Lyonnais. He built it up until it had US$1.5 billion under management.

"It's better than working in newspapers," Coull used to quip to his old journalist colleagues.

The energetic, good-humoured Canadian died last week, aged 52, in the United States where he had been seeking medical treatment after having fought cancer in Hong Kong.

He said he sometimes regretted having been lured away from newsgathering into finance; nobody believed him.

Broking perfectly suited Coull's passions and his personality, colleagues said.

With Mr Walker, he joined the newly formed firm of Winfull Laing and Cruickshank. Credit Lyonnais subsequently took over the company and created CLSA.

When Credit Lyonnais merged with Credit Agricole it gave the Hong Kong firm much stronger foundations.

And it was an environment in which Coull thrived and excelled.

"He realised he was smarter than the stockbrokers and financiers he was writing about," said Mr Walker, his best friend and colleague.

CLSA chief executive and chairman Rob Morrison described Coull as a visionary.

"He understood the value of information," he said. "For him, content was king and the ability to turn information into value was crucial. I never, ever met a guy who could so clearly articulate an idea.

"He was a tough guy who drove people very hard. But he generated an enormous amount of respect and loyalty. People stayed at the company for a long time."

That vision got CLSA into the mainland early, scouting out opportunities in the 1980s. CLSA also led the way into India.

"Gary was a big picture man. We had an advantage because of his vision," Mr Morrison said.

Born in Vancouver in 1954, he worked as a journalist in Canada, Europe and the Middle East before arriving in Hong Kong.

His partner for many years was another former Post reporter, Vicky Wong. The couple met not long after Coull arrived in Hong Kong. They married in 1995.

A lasting legacy of Coull's will be the annual investor conferences he launched in 1994, which drew more than 1,200 institutional investors and leaders such as former US president Bill Clinton and then Chinese premier Zhu Rongji.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.
© 2006 www.garycoull.com. All rights reserved.