Business

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sky's the limit for dapper chief executive with grand ambitions

Financial services company optimistic about the future

Thomas Molloy

JAY Hooley sits on the seventh floor of State Street's new Dublin offices and surveys the extraordinarily vivid views of Dublin Bay from the large plate glass windows of the US financial giant's sparkling new headquarters in the docklands.

It's a big day for State Street, which opened the office the same day, and a big day for Mr Hooley who became State Street's chief executive a few hours earlier after 24 years with the company.

Mr Hooley, a dapper, black-haired man in his early 50s, is in a talkative mood after finishing a question-and-answer session with 250 employees in Dublin and hundreds more of the organisation's 2,000 staff in offices in Carrickmines, Drogheda, Kilkenny, and Naas.

That's a big "town hall", as the Americans like to call these meetings, but it's nothing when compared to one with 13,000 of the company's 27,000 employees the previous month.

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Both Mr Hooley and several staff members who spoke to this newspaper appeared happy with the one-hour session, which saw their boss reassure his audience that the company is not planning any cuts here and could expand if the hedge funds and other investors who use State Street's expertise in Ireland prosper.

Jay may sound like a typical American name but it stands for Joseph and Mr Hooley is the third generation to bear the name which his ancestors brought with them from Kinsale when they emigrated to Boston many years ago.

After a childhood and student days in Boston, Mr Hooley joined telecoms giant AT&T in the early 1980s as it began to shift from telephones to information technology. There, the science graduate gained many of the skills which were to serve him well in the future.

He combines a passion for sales with a knowledge of computers and software. In the course of an hour-long interview he barely mentions the financial services which State Street provide but he speaks repeatedly about the need for really good customer service which competes on the ability to solve customer problems rather than price.

"Our job is to help the customer succeed," he says with a zealousness that brokes no disagreement. For the record, State Street's offices here, and elsewhere, keep records, track performance and execute trades for large institutional investors such as mutual funds, pension funds and hedge funds.

Mr Hooley attributes much of his personal success to having a clear plan for his personal life and for his working life. " I have a very basic framework," he says. "I spend lots of time thinking."

This planning and list writing, common among good sales people, is a way of "knowing where you are going", he says. It is this ability to plan that differentiates individuals and organisations, Mr Hooley believes. He is sceptical of new discoveries, saying very little is ever invented.

"There are very few pure inventions where people have looked around four corners," he believes. "Success comes from focusing on customers. Understanding their real needs." Long days play a role, he concedes. "There's no doubt. Nothing comes easy."

On a day when newspapers and the airwaves are full of concern about the future of Irish pensions and possible grade inflation among Irish students, Mr Hooley has views on both topics.

Europe offers an enticing market precisely because so many people have yet to get pensions and so many governments have yet to introduce the reforms needed to encourage saving.

Mr Hooley, who has spent much of the past decade hopping from country to country around the world, highlights our neighbour Britain as a country which is tackling pension reform and introducing the sort of financial innovation that makes sense.

Of all European countries, Britain is closest to finding a solution, he says.

Mr Hooley, who has set a goal of doubling revenue from outside the US within five years, said Europe's "fractionalised" custody business is under pressure to consolidate because of the cost of new technology and tighter capital requirements following the financial crisis.

"Some of the custody components of universal banks in Europe will be deemed non-core and will likely trade," he says. That will be good for his business.

Despite worries from some fellow US multinationals about the quality of recent Irish graduates, Mr Hooley is sanguine.

Comparing his Irish workforce to 25,000 employees in 24 other countries, he notes the Irish are "one of the better workforces" and seems happy with the way things have gone here over the 14 years since he personally started State Street's first joint venture in Ireland and then expanded through a series of acquisitions.

Mr Hooley is cautious about the prospects for the global economy this year and says it will be 2011 before the world economy picks up and employment begins to rise again.

"We're out of the worst of it. Governments have stepped up, promoted stimulus. I feel good about a second dip," he says while cautioning that "there won't be a snap back or rapid growth".

The past few years have not been plain sailing for State Street which got caught up in the financial crisis through off-sheet investments in long-term debt which boosted State Street's net interest revenue to $2.65bn (€1.95bn) in 2008 but then created unrealised losses of $9.9bn by the end of the year.

News of those losses caused shares to plunge 59pc early last year.

State Street's past problems are good for the new chief executive, analysts said this week.

"He's in a really good spot," Kevin Conn of Massachusetts Financial Services, State Street's biggest shareholder, said earlier this week.

"They've put a lot behind them legally and they are in the trough, earnings wise. It's the right time to take over."

Asked whether he agrees, Mr Hooley pauses and smiles. "It's always a good time to take the top job," he shrugs. The man with the plan has got to where he wants to be. Time will tell what happens next.

Irish Independent

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