Since joining DBS Bank in 2010, Tom McCabe, head of global transaction services (GTS), has seen the GTS business pass the $1bn revenue mark. He describes how this success is a result of the bank's positive working environment, which enables individuals to build a "personal legacy".

When Tom McCabe, head of global transaction services (GTS) at DBS Bank, took on his role, he assumed he would be leveraging his technical expertise in transaction banking to help the Singaporean bank build a pan-Asian franchise. “Nothing was further from the truth,” he says.

Mr McCabe joined DBS in 2010 from Standard Chartered, where he worked for more than 12 years. What he found at DBS was a “great team with in-depth technical knowledge”. Rather than building technical expertise, as he had expected, Mr McCabe found his main task was “unlocking the talent in the 15 different markets” where DBS operates.

Money talks

So far his efforts – and those of his team – have paid off. Between 2010 and 2013, the global transaction services business had a revenue compound annual growth rate of 26% and a profits compound annual growth rate of 32%, with revenue surpassing the $1bn mark, which puts the bank in the same league as the international players in Asia. 

The bank has been investing in its people and technology, but Mr McCabe focuses less on this when he talks about his leadership of the bank’s GTS business. Instead, he focuses on his management style that concentrates on building an environment that enables people to make good decisions. 

“The attributes of an organisation that makes good decisions are transparency of data, the elements of materiality, having the right people in the room – and identifying who will make the decision from those who are there to add information – and a personal commitment from the individuals when they walk into a meeting to fully engage, versus using their BlackBerry or texting,” says Mr McCabe.

The ideal environment, he explains, is where team members enter a meeting with a mindset of “I will contribute positively to the process of making the best decision” rather than one of where people arm themselves with data that serves only their purposes or enables them to get the budget allocation for their pet project.

Decision dynamics

Rather than a leadership style that imposes his decision, Mr McCabe welcomes diversity of opinions and wants people to understand rather than criticise each other. If there is a difference of opinion, Mr McCabe says, it is important to ask questions so that the individual can get to an understanding of how the other person got to that point, rather than immediately judging the position as wrong.

“If we get six different opinions – that is a strength in an organisation, you can make a fully informed decision”. The challenge, he says, “Is balancing not rushing to a decision too soon – so you have all the data and fully consider all the opinions – without taking forever to make the decision."

Mr McCabe describes his approach as one of “coaching”, which is done one on one. This, for example, could be done through sharing observations to his staff on their presentations. “I will always make a few notes on how to communicate the message in a more impactful way. Are you using too much data and diluting the message, was it clear what you were asking for, did you maintain a level of materiality, did the slides support your message, versus you support the slide?”

He argues that there is a huge competitive advantage that can be gained by observing and giving constant feedback. “The best leaders are developers of people, they provide context, insights, and the right balance of challenge and support” he says.

When asked how he ensures that this style of leadership works in his absence, when he is not around to continue with the one-on-one coaching, Mr McCabe says “You trust people”. He adds that he presumes that what occurs in his absence is positive, unless he learns otherwise. The alternative, he notes, is to fill that void with negativity, which in turn can build into a negative environment.

Work-life integration

This management style, he explains, comes from other leaders he has worked under, for example at Proctor and Gamble. At Standard Chartered he worked with Mervyn Davies and Mike DeNoma, who he describes as inspirational leaders. Mr McCabe has worked for more than 15 years in Asia, and during his time at Standard Chartered he was the bank’s CEO in South Korea when it acquired Korea First Bank. The other positions he held at Standard Chartered included global head of secured lending, group head of business banking and global head of sales for transaction banking. Prior to that, he was Citi’s head of corporate sales for North America. 

When Mr McCabe first joined DBS, he wanted to build the organisation’s capabilities so they would be on a par with all the global banks. “The second thing I wanted to achieve was to establish an environment where everyone has the ability to build their own personal legacy,” he says. This could be related to business performance, or equally, to contributions outside of the workplace, such as volunteering for charity.

Mr McCabe describes the concept of ‘work-life balance’ as “baloney” and he urges his staff to think about it in a different way. “Individuals are working in multiple time zones, holidays seldom match up, there is always an urgent issue, you are connected 24/7. What is achievable is work-life integration. Rather than it being ‘I am on work’ or ‘not on work’ – and always on call with the BlackBerry – I want my team to be able to achieve things that are important to them personally through their work or the company community programmes,” he says. 

“If we are just making the numbers, if that is all we have at the end of the day – that is pretty hollow, and many people end up resenting the sacrifices they made” he says.

The third goal Mr McCabe set out to reach was about how the team achieves results, how it makes decisions and how it reaches customers. “It’s not just about profits and winning awards", although DBS has won plenty, but “more about identifying things that are unique and distinctive in the way you deliver,” he says, adding that it is about attitude, character and integrity.


All fields are mandatory

The Banker is a service from the Financial Times. The Financial Times Ltd takes your privacy seriously.

Choose how you want us to contact you.

Invites and Offers from The Banker

Receive exclusive personalised event invitations, carefully curated offers and promotions from The Banker

For more information about how we use your data, please refer to our privacy and cookie policies.

Terms and conditions

Top 1000 2023

Request a demonstration to The Banker Database

Join our community

The Banker on Twitter