Goldman banker joins the education industry

Former head of China equity capital markets, Jie Lian, has resigned to become CFO of unlisted Chinese education services company Ambow.

Jie Lian, the former head of China equity capital markets at Goldman Sachs, has left the firm to pursue a new challenge in the corporate world, joining a growing group of successful bankers who are using the current downturn to try their hand at something else.

In a reflection of last year's slowdown in the primary equity markets and the difficulty for smaller unknown Chinese firms to complete initial public offerings, Lian changed his role in October last year to focus more widely on investment banking, including the investment by foreign parties into unlisted entrepreneurial Chinese firms.

And it is one of these privately-owned Chinese start-ups that has now convinced Lian to come and work on the other side of the fence. According to sources, he is about to join education services company Ambow Education Group as its chief financial officer once his gardening leave is over in mid-March.

Lian is one of many Goldman bankers who have been lured to the corporate world over the years -- often by companies that they have worked with during their time at the bank. Some of these have returned to banking after a few years -- especially those that left to join a dotcom firm -- while others continue to pursue their new careers. At present, as is also noted in a separate story on this website today, the decline in bonuses and the increasingly uncertain job prospects within investment banking are acting as a catalyst for people, who may already have been thinking about other options, to take the plunge and move out of banking.

Founded in 2000 by Silicon Valley veteran Jin Huang, Ambow made headlines in October last year when it managed to secure $103 million worth of foreign capital through a private placement in the midst of one of the severest credit crunches in decades. The investment was led by Actis, a private equity firm focusing on emerging markets that was new to the company, and existing investors Avenue (a private equity firm/hedge fund) and Macquarie Group.

Ambow completed a first round of fundraising in October 2007, raising $54 million from Avenue, CID, Cisco and Macquarie Group. The company focuses on personalised education and training services in China's K-12 (primary and secondary school) and vocational training sectors. It has built its school network both by operating its own schools and partnering with other schools to provide education services that complement the national curriculum. Actis's head of China notes that Huang has built "a great professional management team which shares her strong passion for education".

At the time of the fund raising, Huang, who is president and CEO of the company, said that Ambow plans to use the new money to accelerate acquisitions and business expansion, and to promote the development of personalised life-long education platforms in China. "By leveraging interactive education platforms and integrated online/offline solutions, we will be able to provide more tailored services to students," she said.

While Lian is joining a firm that is well-capitalised for now, it wouldn't be far-fetched to assume that he, with his strong background in IPOs, has been hired to help the Chinese company go public at some stage.

A fast-rising star at Goldman, Lian, now 34, joined the firm in Hong Kong as an associate in the ECM department in July 2001 after completing his Master of Business Administration degree. In January 2005 he was made executive director and in December 2007 managing director. Before taking on the new role within IBS (investment banking services) in October last year, he was head of China ECM for two years.

He has worked on numerous high-profile IPOs during his seven-and-a-half years with the bank, including the Hong Kong listings for Bank of China, Bank of Communications, Bank of China (Hong Kong) and China Netcom, and both the A- and H-share listings for Ping An Insurance. Among the smaller entrepreneurial firms he has helped to bring to market are internet companies Shanda and Tencent, screen-based advertising firm Focus Media, and education services provider New Oriental.

This will not be the first time that Lian has worked in the corporate world, however. In 1996 he was one of six management trainees recruited by Shell in China and spent almost three years with the oil giant in the mainland as a financial analyst and marketing manager. 

Lian's former role as head of China ECM at Goldman hasn't been filled but has effectively been taken over by Jonathan Penkin, the bank's head of ECM for Asia ex-Japan, who is responsible for the coverage of China, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan.

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