Sir Thomas Sutherland – the father of HSBC

HSBC Private Bank

Thomas SutherlandThe name of Sir Thomas Sutherland is connected to one of the largest banking empires in the world at the present moment. The prominent Scotsman went down in history as the founder of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking corporation, which, a century and a half after its establishment, is known as the HSBC Holding plc.

Early years

Thomas Sutherland was born in 1834. He was the son of one Robert Sutherland of Aberdeen. Sutherland received his formal education in his home city, graduating from the Aberdeen University. After his studies were complete, the then young man started out his career in banking and trade as a clerk in the London office of the prominent Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Even at that time, he showed a keen eye for business that did not escape his superiors. It was just a couple of years later when Thomas Sutherland was promoted to the post of superintendant and sent to the Hong Kong offices of the P&O. HSBC 1865His task was to oversee the operations that the company was conducting in Asia. This was naturally important for the P&O because at that time China was slowly but surely opening its borders for foreign trade, which was to bring considerable financial benefits for the British companies that would manage to establish themselves at this huge market. On the other hand, the overseas appointment had a much more personal importance for Thomas Sutherland – it more or less pre-destined his future and helped him build a financial empire of his own.

First years in Asia

Thomas Sutherland was a natural-born businessman. He quickly managed to navigate in the budding commercial realities in Hong Kong and made a name for himself. It was in 1863 when he managed to secure the chairman position of the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock for himself. At that time he started exploring the potential markets between China and the United States. The market at this moment was nearly non-existent and finding proper financing was difficult.

Establishment of HSBC and beyond

HSBC Private BankThis prompted Sutherland to begin what was to become probably his most important business venture – the establishment of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. This took place in 1865. While serving as a vice chairman of the corporation, he continued to rise in the ranks of the P&O eventually gaining the post of Managing Director. At the same time he entered British politics. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1884. Most of his later years he spent in London where he died in 1922 – after losing his wife Alice Macnaught two years earlier and two sons on the battlefields of the Great War. His legacy, in the face of HSBC however, lives on in the 21st century.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation – some key facts

  • Established on 3 March 1865
  • Number of current employees – 216 000
  • Revenue – 78 337 Mrd USD
  • 6 600 offices in 80 countries around the world
  • The sixth-largest company in the world