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Global citizen, Asian DNA: Eleanor Seet

Eleanor Seet President and CEO of Nikko Asset Management Asia

Nikko Asset Management (Nikko AM) is an excitingly innovative company, even for one in an industry like finance. It’s this sense of innovation that has helped the company achieve a status as one of Asia’s largest asset managers, with said managed assets totalling US$220 billion. Most impressively, it’s a start-up, and according to Nikko AM Asia President and Director Eleanor Seet, this has led to the entrepreneurial mindset ingrained into the company.

“Innovation is by definition in our culture and values,” says Eleanor. “We feel strongly that it’s instituted from the beginning, in terms of the hiring. It’s integrated within the goals we set. It’s there. It has to be, because there’s nothing in our proposition today that we can take for granted.”

Eleanor Seet President and CEO of Nikko Asset Management Asia
Eleanor Seet. President and CEO of Nikko Asset Management Asia

Nikko AM’s proposition is spelled out in its slogan: “Global Citizen with Asian DNA”. It’s rare that a company in this industry offers services to bridge the gap between local and global asset management, but this is the proposition that Nikko AM offers.

“It seems quite simple, but it is rather profound,” Eleanor explains. “In this day and age, all global asset managers say they’re local, and all local asset managers say they’re global. But in lifetime asset management, you still get two distinct choices –global and on the other end of the spectrum, local. There isn’t much in the regional space. We offer a compelling alternative – an emerging global player with an Asian edge.”

The asset manager’s Asian DNA is a much-needed addition to the global finance industry. Before Nikko AM, there weren’t any companies around that could claim to be an authority on both China and Japan, for example. Eleanor believes that the industry needs a regional expert, though she acknowledges it’s easier said than done. Though Nikko AM won’t be the first to attempt this, Eleanor is confident that the company has the resources to achieve success.

“If we do our jobs right, we have a real opportunity to impact lives.”

“Because there are larger, more established brands in our business, we must keep analysing the field,” she says. “We cannot just do what others do and expect to succeed. In fact, that almost guarantees we will fail, because these other brands are many years ahead of us. We have to do things differently. We have to constantly find ways to be distinctive and compete differently. But innovation by itself is not enough. It needs teamwork to succeed. It needs stamina. Without all that, frankly, many ideas fail and never see the light of day. Trying new things is not easy.”

Eleanor Seet President and CEO of Nikko Asset Management Asia

Of course, Eleanor is no stranger to trying new things. Her transition to Nikko AM represented a shift from a career in active investment with AllianceBernstein, to passive investment with Barclays Global Investors (BlackRock as it stands today). It required a change of mindset in dealing with clients, going from prioritising her own perspective to being the means through which clients executed their views. For Eleanor, it was like changing religions, but the opportunity to make a difference was too much to pass up.

“What appealed to me about joining Nikko AM was a chance to be a part of a turnaround story, which until then I hadn’t had,” says Eleanor. “If we do our jobs right, we have a real opportunity to impact lives – clients as well as colleagues – and that’s what we’re trying to do every single day. It takes time but it’s what we’ve set out to do.”

This mission is complicated by the uncertainty of the market, a factor for any business in finance. Eleanor believes the industry’s nature necessitates a focus on collaboration rather than competition, and Nikko AM has established joint ventures with companies in China and Malaysia. But that emphasis on collaboration isn’t only external; it defines Eleanor’s approach to leadership.

“Ideas can come from everywhere,” she says. “I don’t have all the answers. The collective wisdom of the firm is always better. I feel that humility is key, especially for our proposition. It’s not my duty to have all the answers, and I don’t. I firmly believe that you find the right person for the job. We try to empower them and we get out of their way.

“BNP Paribas Securities Services and Nikko Asset Management have built a true partnership in the region through years of change and growth across both organisations. We thank Nikko for their trust and look forward to future success as we support Nikko’s global business.” – Diana Senanayake, Head of Singapore, BNP Paribas Securities Services

“At the risk of sounding cheesy, our people are our business. That is how we compete. There’s no running from that. Due to the nature of our proposition, our people make every difference.”

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