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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The new chief of Agricultural Bank of China (601288.SS) (1288.HK) brings no-nonsense flair and a strong track record in bank overhauls to the helm of the lumbering Chinese lender where he started out years ago as a filing clerk.
Jiang Chaoliang, President of China Development Bank CHDB.UL since 2008, is to become chairman of AgBank.
He returns to lead a company that was his first employer in banking, having worked his way up from a clerk distributing files and newspapers two decades ago to head its international business by the late 1990s.
During Jiang's three-year reign at China Development Bank, he transformed it from a lender that solely granted loans under government directives into a largely commercial bank, expanding into private equity businesses and with a series of international cooperation deals.
Jiang's efforts to revitalize CDB were capped late last year, when the bank launched its Hong Kong operations and signed a strategic partnership with private equity giants including TPG Capital TPG.UL, KKR KKR.UL and Permira.
It is not the first time the 54-year-old drove changes at a state-owned bank.
During Jiang's four-year stint as Chairman of Bank of Communications (BoCom) (3328.HK) (601328.SS) from June 2004, he transformed China's fifth-biggest lender from a struggling operation laden with bad debts into a dual-listed company with HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L) as strategic investor and partner.
BoCom's successful reincarnation paved the way for the listings of China's "Big Four" state lenders, including AgBank, and built Jiang's reputation as a decisive man with superb negotiation skills.
"Jiang hardly conceals what he loves and hates," said a BoCom official who worked with Jiang but declined to be identified. "He wants things to be done quickly and neatly, and hates lengthy meetings that generate no results."
His drive has paid off. When Jiang landed at BoCom headquarters in Shanghai's Lujiazui financial district with Beijing's mandate to turn the company around, it was suffering from inefficiency and a bad debt ratio of nearly 13 percent.
Within months, Jiang helped seal a slew of state-backed restructuring deals that saw BoCom dispose of 53 billion yuan ($8.31 billion) of bad assets, slash its bad loan ratio to 3.4 percent and introduce new government shareholders.
Jiang, who is often seen at public occasions in a dark suit and a red tie, played a crucial role in striking the deal with HSBC, which paid $1.7 billion for a 19.9 percent stake in BoCom in the biggest foreign investment in a Chinese bank at the time.
At one point during the lengthy and arduous talks, HSBC, worried about some newly unveiled scandals at BoCom, decided to leave the negotiating table, according to "Two Decades of Reforms," a book about BoCom's history.
In a last-ditch effort that eventually saved the deal, Jiang invited then-HSBC CEO Stephen Green for a lunch in Beijing, during which he expressed a keen desire to cooperate with HSBC and painted a rosy picture of China's rapidly expanding economy, luring HSBC back to the table, according to the book.
Jiang is no stranger to hardship. Born in 1957 in a farmer's family in central Hunan province and the eldest of five children, he had to take care of other family members in his early years, according to local media reports.
Jiang dropped out of middle school to make money early, and as China resumed university education in 1977 after disruptions due to the Cultural Revolution, he pounced on the opportunity and was recruited by Hunan Finance Institute as a finance major student.
He later joined AgBank. After working his way to head of the international business there, Jiang developed an understanding of financial risk and crisis management experience during his stint from 1998-1999 at the Guangzhou branch of the People's Bank of China, successfully tackling financial bankruptcies in southern China amid the Asian financial crisis.
Jiang's crisis-management skills were honed several years later during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, as vice governor of central Hubei province responsible for public sanitation.
AgBank, already listed, is unlikely to see major reforms in the short term. Its challenges lie with balancing its vast rural network against pressure to expand overseas to keep up with its rivals including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (1398.HK) (601398.SS).
"Jiang is rich in resources and is good at driving some symbolic changes," said Jin Lin, analyst at Orient Securities Co in Shanghai.
Additional reporting by Kelvin Soh; Editing by Brian Rhoads and Helen Massy-Beresford