William Purves was born
in December 1931 at
Kersquarter, Kelso where
his father was tenant
farmer until 1932. The
family then moved to
Bedrule, Hawick where
his mother resumed her
career as a schoolteacher.
In 1942 the family moved
to Ednam, Kelso when his
mother was appointed
Headmistress of the local
William (Willie) was educated at Kelso High School and having attained a Higher Leaving Certificate in 1948 he became an apprentice at a salary of £48 per annum in the National Bank of Scotland Kelso, (later National Commercial Bank, later Royal Bank of Scotland). His banking career was interrupted by his call up for National Service where he was badged into the Black Watch and trained at Fort George. He was then sent to Eaton Hall, Chester, as an Officer Cadet before being Commissioned into the King’s Own Scottish Borderers which Regiment he joined in Hong Kong in early 1951. Almost immediately the Regiment was sent to Korea to replace the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the United Nations Forces. The Regiment saw considerable action and in November 1951 Purves was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry in the field at the age of 19. (No other National Service officer was awarded this high honour).
On demobilisation Willie returned to the National Bank at 10, The Square where he firstly became Ledger Clerk and subsequently Teller. He was then invited to transfer to Head Office Edinburgh but since the offered salary would not cover the cost of his digs, he resigned in 1954. After interviews with a number of foreign banks, he joined The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation later that year.
So commenced a career of 44 years with what is now HSBC Holdings plc, all but 40 of which were worked mainly in the Far East, with periodic leaves spent happily in the Borders. He married Diana Richardson in 1959 in Singapore, who bore him two daughters and two sons. They separated in 1988 and Purves married Rebecca Lewellen the following year.
Purves worked his way up in what was locally called, the Hongkong Bank, before being appointed Chief Executive in 1986 and Group Chairman at the end of the same year. The Bank was growing fast as the economies of many Asian countries developed but was clearly under represented in Europe. Purves and his colleagues therefore set about the search for a partner of some size. In 1983 they were prevented by the Monopolies Commission from taking over the Royal Bank of Scotland, which could well have brought the combined Head Office to Edinburgh but when Midland Bank, one of the largest clearers, got into trouble in 1985 the opportunity to take a minority stake of 14.9% arose. Merger discussions followed over some years until a full takeover was proposed by HSBC in 1991. Despite the threatened intervention of Lloyds Bank, opposition from the Bank of England, difficulties with other Regulators and worries in China, Purves pushed ahead and gained control of Midland in July 1992. This resulted in him having to leave his beloved Hong Kong in October 1993 and take up residence in London.
While in Hong Kong Purves held office in a number of charitable and sporting organisations and was a member of The Executive Council – Hong Kong’s highest Governing Body. He was Chairman of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club and of the Hong Kong Sports Development Authority and Treasurer of the University of Hong Kong. He was appointed a Commander of the British Empire for services to Hong Kong in 1989 and was Knighted by Her Majesty in 1993 for services to Banking and Hong Kong. In 2001 he was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Order, the highest order bestowed by the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region.
After his transfer to London he was appointed a Non-Exec Director of Shell Transport and Trading and became a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum (subsequently Deputy Chairman) and of Charterhouse in the City. He retired in 1998 from all offices in the HSBC Group, including Chairman of Midland Bank and British Bank of the Middle East.
After retirement, he became a non-executive director of Alstom SA, Chairman of Hakluyt & Company and non-executive Director of a number of non-quoted companies. For a time he was seconded to the committee of the Scottish Rugby Union and became a Trustee of the National Museums of Scotland and more recently Vice President of the National Trust for Scotland. In 2004/5 he was Master of the Guild of International Bankers. He was honoured by receiving honorary degrees from nine universities in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
Although now living in London and North Oxfordshire Purves continues to take a close interest in developments in the Borders. His sport is Rugby Union and he loves gardening.
Find out about the contribution people from Kelso have made through the ages. Biographies of characters with Kelso connections who have made their mark throughout the world.View Storyboard: Sir William Purves, CBE, DSO