Wei Sun Christianson is CEO of China and Co-CEO of Asia Pacific for Morgan Stanley and a member of the firm’s Management Committee. Under her leadership, Morgan Stanley has broadened its onshore footprint in China to include domestic securities and bonds underwriting, commercial banking, asset management, trust services and renminbi-denominated private equity investing. She is based in Beijing.
Wei first joined Morgan Stanley in 1998, working in the firm’s Investment Banking Division. She graduated cum laude from Amherst College and earned her J.D. degree from the Columbia University School of Law.
My ambition was to work in a profession that is respected. In China, at that time, it was normal for a woman to work, but women working in a core role in a highly respected profession were rare.
A Columbia law professor who visited my Chinese college once told me that lawyers, accountants and doctors were considered amongst the most respected professionals in the US I had a clear picture that I wanted to be a lawyer. I decided to repeat my last two years of college at a US liberal arts college, Amherst. I got into Columbia and Harvard law schools, but Columbia gave me a full grant. My parents told me to never owe anyone any money, so I went to Columbia.
I later became a lawyer in New York with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. And then, in the early 1990s, I moved to Hong Kong and joined the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), the local regulator, where I helped formulate the regulations to prepare for the Hong Kong public listings of the first group of Mainland Chinese companies. I realized then that the equity market in China was likely to emerge at a rapid pace and would be an exciting and dynamic area to work. That’s when I wanted to make the move into finance.
How has your experience outside of the financial services industry affected the way you approach your role at the firm?
Given the complexities and challenges of my Asia and China roles, I couldn’t do my job without that legal and liberal arts education. It taught me to identify and analyze issues, maintain clarity and provide solutions.
My legal training also made me sensitive and vigilant to potential issues that the firm could face. Ensuring we do the right thing and protecting the Morgan Stanley franchise in the region are critical priorities for us.
Every investment bank has a presence here in China, but in many ways Morgan Stanley is set apart. We were often called “the first person to eat the crab”(第一個吃螃蟹的人). This expression means that one is really a trendsetter.
We formed China's first foreign investment bank joint venture in 1995 with China Construction Bank. That experience generated tremendous goodwill for us in China as we were teaching them how to build an international company.
We’ve been at the forefront of China’s capital markets since the early 1990s and have a lot to be proud of. Morgan Stanley led the first deal to be marketed outside of China in 1991, even before the stock exchanges existed. In 1992, we completed the first Yankee bond for a Chinese issuer.
A lot of the early state-owned enterprise deals were truly groundbreaking, and we had outsized market share. This included helping our partner, China Construction Bank, become the first bank in China to go public. We were also the first to start private equity investing in China and to focus more generally on private companies. This led to us underwriting many of the most significant China private sector listings.
When I considered returning to Morgan Stanley, I asked myself: Is Morgan Stanley me and am I Morgan Stanley? Of course it was not a long debate. The collaborative culture here is very appealing, and, of course, the quality of the team. They could have simply brought me in to run investment banking for China, but the firm is especially good at seeing other possibilities. This further convinced me that this was the place I belonged.
It’s challenging to build a franchise like Morgan Stanley in a new cultural environment. We first had to build the framework—a core team to be the culture carriers for the firm. We have deliberately put people in place who aren’t always Asian or Chinese. The China management team includes quite a few people who have been with the firm a long time, who bring a variety of perspectives. We benefit not only from their skill set and management experience, but also from their knowledge of what Morgan Stanley stands for. They are important role models for younger and newer employees.
I love the fact that I can directly impact Chinese companies or American or European clients. There are great potential synergies for so many global companies and fantastic ideas to help them expand their businesses in China. I can immediately see the value my team and I can add.
What’s so exciting is that your work makes a difference beyond yourself. You’re really helping others, and have access to so many brilliant business leaders. They are all inspiring, and yet, we are able to help them fulfill their ambitions in one of the most important and dynamic markets in the world.