Nomura's new CEO, Kentaro Okuda, addresses the media in Tokyo, Japan, December 2 2019. Picture: NORIKO HAYASHI/BLOOMBERG
Nomura's new CEO, Kentaro Okuda, addresses the media in Tokyo, Japan, December 2 2019. Picture: NORIKO HAYASHI/BLOOMBERG

Tokyo — Nomura Holdings  named Kentaro Okuda as its new chief executive officer, turning to a 32-year company veteran to help cement a sweeping overhaul of its global operations and reverse a slump at home.

Co-COO Okuda, 56, will replace Koji Nagai on April 1, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement on Monday. Nagai, 60, who has been in charge for more than seven years, will become chair.

To arrest a decline in Nomura’s wholesale business, Okuda executed Nagai’s $1bn cost-cutting plan which returned to profitability overseas operations that have struggled since the purchase of Lehman Brothers Holding’s Asian and European assets in 2008.

The new leader now has to revive retail operations at home, where revenues have been pressured by an aging population, the rise of online competitors, and a stubborn propensity for people to save rather than invest.

“The sense of urgency is even stronger now that when Nagai became CEO,” Okuda said at a briefing in Tokyo after the announcement. “Speeding up the decision-making process is how I can make my mark going forward.”

Nagai announced his departure eight months after unveiling his third major cost-cutting exercise, having somewhat repaired his reputation following an information leak and a selloff that pushed the brokerage’s valuations toward an all-time low. He said his successor is well suited to the job given his ability to communicate with clients and his international background.

“Certainly Okuda should have a better feel for the environment in New York” given his overseas experience, said Michael Makdad, an analyst at Morningstar in Tokyo. At the same time, he will need to ensure that he does not take the domestic retail franchise for granted, Makdad said.

Okuda joined Nomura in 1987 in the middle of Japan’s economic bubble. After earning a master’s degree in business administration in 1990 from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School, he rose through the ranks, mainly in the wholesale business.

He became co-chief operating officer in April 2018, and was head of the Americas from 2017 to 2019. He was formerly global head of investment banking, during which time he hired bankers in the US, a key business target for Nomura outside of Japan.

Nagai’s decision to step aside was not a surprise, given that he is the longest-serving CEO at Nomura in more than 40 years, though the timing was unexpected. The firm usually announces management changes closer to the start of its fiscal year in April.

Nagai spent most of his time in charge wrestling with losses abroad that prompted the cost cutting. In the briefing, he said the time was right to hand over the reins given progress made on his latest restructuring efforts, which also involved the closure of some retail branches.

Revenue from the wholesale division, which serves global institutional clients, has recovered so far this fiscal year. More than 60% of the cost-reduction plan has been completed, Okuda said at the briefing.

Still, he said it may be difficult to achieve a target of achieving earnings of ¥100 per share in the year ending March. Nagai will update clients and investors on the company’s direction at a forum in Tokyo on Tuesday.

“We are paying close attention to how the new leadership will act to achieve its goals,” including a plan to boost wholesale revenue by as much as $400m annually, said Toshihiro Matsuo, an analyst at S&P Global Ratings in Tokyo. “Under the current business environment, expanding revenue can be a challenge.”

Nagai replaced Kenichi Watanabe in 2012 in the wake of an insider-trading scandal at the brokerage. Watanabe had overseen the firm’s ill-fated acquisition of Lehman businesses when the Wall Street firm collapsed during the global financial crisis.

Now Nagai is set to depart on a high, months after being narrowly reappointed to the board following a fresh information leak that led to regulatory penalties. Profit climbed to the highest in 17 years in the most recent quarter, as growth in revenue from trading and investment banking made up for continued weakness in the retail business.

Shares of Nomura have climbed 69% from 2019’s low in June, and are trading at the highest in more than a year. The stock closed 0.3% higher in Tokyo before the management change was announced.

Okuda is known for his leadership and ability to get along with a wide range of people, said Hironari Nozaki, a professor at Toyo University who went to the same schools as him from elementary level to university.

“He was a leader for his class, and he was on good terms with everyone,” Nozaki said. “I think that’s his true value.”

With assistance from Takahiko Hyuga.

Bloomberg