Listen on


Leading is one thing. Leaving a leadership legacy that has a resounding impact on an entire industry is quite another. Sam Tsien, the former CEO of OCBC Bank in Singapore, accomplished the latter. In this episode, we’ll talk with Sam about how he did it, from leading the best-managed bank during the COVID-19 pandemic, to executing a seamless CEO succession plan, to adeptly navigating the Chinese banking market – and ultimately how he created a lasting legacy.

Sam spent 44 years in Asia’s banking sector. Prior to OCBC Bank, he was CEO of China Construction Bank Asia and president and CEO of Bank of America, Asia. Sam’s redefining moment? Early on in his career, he was transferred from Hong Kong to San Francisco where banks had already begun to embrace technology, far more than in Asia. It was in California that he learned to have an open attitude and to adapt to the practices of where he was rather than where he came from. Sam’s a man who knows his market—wherever on the planet that is—and that perspective is part of what enabled him to create a lasting impact on both Asia’s financial services sector and the world’s business leadership community.

Samuel N. Tsien

Adviser to the Board

Samuel N. Tsien was Group Chief Executive Officer of OCBC Bank between April 2012 and April 2021, and was on the Board of the Bank until his retirement. He was appointed Adviser to the Board of OCBC Bank on 15 April 2021.

During his 9 years as OCBC’s Group CEO, he was also on the boards of all major OCBC Group companies, including Great Eastern Holdings Ltd, Bank of Singapore Ltd. OCBC Bank (Malaysia) Berhad, Wing Hang Bank (China) Ltd, and the Board of Commissioners of PT Bank OCBC NISP Tbk.

He is a Director of Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd and continues to serve on the Board of OCBC Wing Bank Ltd.

Prior to his retirement from OCBC Bank in April 2021, he was concurrently Chairman of the Association of Banks in Singapore, Vice Chairman of the Council of the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF), and Chairman of the Standards Committee of IBF. Appointed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), he was also Chairman of the Steering Committee for Singapore’s SOR and SIBOR transition to SORA. He was a member of the National Jobs Council, the MAS Financial Centre Advisory Panel, the MAS Payments Council.

Mr Tsien joined OCBC Bank in July 2007 as Senior Executive Vice President and Global Head of Business Banking. In 2008, he assumed the position of Global Head, Global Corporate Bank, and was appointed Group CEO in April 2012.

Prior to joining OCBC Bank, he was President and Chief Executive Officer of China Construction Bank (Asia) in 2017, and President and Chief Executive Officer of Bank of America (Asia) from 1995 to 2006 based in Hong Kong. He was also Asia Consumer & Commercial Banking Group Executive of Bank of America Corporation and was on the Board of BankAmerica International Financial Corporation and Bank of America Overseas Corporation, the holding companies of Bank of America's investments and subsidiaries outside of the US.

Between 1992 and 1995, he was Head of Asia Credit Risk Management of Bank of America's commercial and retail banking group in Asia. He was named Senior Vice President of Bank of America Corporation in 1993, and Executive Vice President in 1996. Before returning from the US to Asia in June 1992, he was with Bank of America’s U.S. High Technology group based in San Francisco. Prior to that, he was head of trade and manufacturing finance, ship finance, country credit officer, and head of corporate banking in Hong Kong respectively.

Prior to moving to Singapore in 2007, he was a member of the Hong Kong Banking Advisory Committee, the Insurance Advisory Committee, the Securities and Futures Appeals Tribunal, and a director of the Board of Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company Ltd, a wholly-owned organization established by the Government of Hong Kong to develop information technology infrastructure. He was also Chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers.

Mr. Tsien started his banking career with Bank of America as a management trainee. He was born in Shanghai, China, and raised in Hong Kong. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in Economics.