RIYADH – HSBC Holdings’ head of public affairs, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, is poised to step down from his role as British chair of the Saudi British Joint Business Council (SBJBC) in September, weeks after a British newspaper reported some controversial remarks he made at a speech in July.
Sir Sherard has decided against standing for re-election as a director of the council’s British division at the group’s upcoming annual general meeting, according to a spokesman for the group, which aims to improve business relations between Saudi Arabia and Britain.
His term as chair will also come to an end at that time, she said.
The former diplomat, who served as Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told students at the University of Oxford that “the Arabic mind is empty compared to the Chinese”, according to the Daily Mail.
He also told the audience that he wished he had learnt to speak Chinese instead of Arabic when he was in public service because China is “more interesting”.
The executive was encouraged to give up the position at the lobby group following those comments, according to people familiar with the matter.
Sir Sherard did not respond to a request for comment, while a representative for HSBC declined to comment.
He had been at the centre of a storm earlier when he accused the British government of being weak by following US policy on China.
Those remarks sparked criticism from many British politicians.
He later apologised for any offence caused, saying the comments he made at a private event in London were personal.
HSBC also said they were his personal views.
HSBC is one of the biggest overseas banks in Saudi Arabia, where it employs about 200 investment bankers.
It holds an annual alumni event in Riyadh for a rising number of participants as more local employees leave for top government jobs or senior roles at rivals.
The lender also owns 31 per cent of Saudi Awwal Bank.
SBJBC, which has a presence in both Riyadh and London, comprises more than 150 senior British and Saudi representatives from all sectors.
It works closely with governments and trade associations, according to its website. BLOOMBERG
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