Merrill's Woodthorpe goes on the wagon for charity

The investment bank aims to raise $100,000 to build a language training centre in partnership with Po Leung Kuk and the FCC.
Some commentators are referring to the volatility in the equity markets as a real dieting cure, but for Alex Woodthorpe there will be another incentive altogether to cut his waistline in the coming few months.

Starting from September 1, the 42-year-old head of equity capital markets for the Pacific Rim at Merrill Lynch, who is currently ôhovering just below the 100 kilo markö, has committed to abstain from alcohol for 100 days and will also try to return to the 76 kilos he sported before joining Merrill Lynch in 1995 û all in the name of charity.

Woodthorpe, who took over his current role at the firm from super fit long distance runner Ian Carton in March after about three years as head of ECM for Japan (and subsequently also Australia), has agreed to these challenges to draw attention to a campaign that Merrill has launched to raise at least $100,000.

The money will go towards a language training centre for underprivileged Hong Kong children that the investment bank will develop together with the Hong Kong Foreign CorrespondentsÆ Club and the Po Leung Kuk charity.

ôI probably come from an old-fashioned school that feels that some sacrifice has to be made when you ask people to do something, (and) I was trying to think what people who know me would consider to be a reasonably arduous task,ö he told FinanceAsia after announcing his intention to become a lightweight to his Merrill colleagues earlier this week.

Like other bankers, Woodthorpe spends a lot of his time on airplanes and admits that he doesnÆt know whether his weight loss target is realistic. However, since this isnÆt a traditional sponsoring event where he will have to succeed in order to receive a certain amount of pledged money, or where the donations will be related to how many kilos he manages to lose, that doesnÆt really matter.

ôI am going into the wilderness for 100 days. If I can match this with a personal success of reshaping myself thatÆs great, but I donÆt really feel people should make a donation just because IÆm trying to lose weight. This is a way to lead the initiative and create a focal point, but what we really want people to focus on is the orphanage and the language training centre,ö he says.

That said, given the attention he has already attracted among his Merrill colleagues around Asia, it will likely not be easy for him to cheat. And why would he?

ôThis is an opportunity for us to make a difference,ö Woodthorpe says. ôI firmly believe that within the realms of Merrill Lynch, whether it is inside our doors or through our friends, clients and relatives around the region and in the rest of the world, we have the ability to raise significant funds for good causes. And this is a very good cause.ö

The aim of the language training centre, which will cater to underprivileged children of about 12 to 18 years of age, is to give them a chance to learn a second language. Enhanced language skills will help these children to gain greater confidence and self-esteem and also improve their job opportunities within industries like hospitality or services û even if they are unable to attend university. Po Leung Kuk already runs an FCC-sponsored language centre for younger children, but wants to create a more comprehensive training program that allows the children to continue this education as they get older.

Founded in 1878 by the early Chinese merchants as a temporary refuge for victims of abduction cases, Po Leung Kuk is Hong KongÆs oldest non-profit charitable organisation and has grown to become the cityÆs largest philanthropic organisation. Aside from its well-known orphanage, it also runs a large number of schools for less fortunate children, a battered womenÆs home as well as homes for the elderly and the mentally infirm û all aiming to provide a better quality of life to these people. It gets as minimum contribution from the government each year, but its facilities are dependant on charitable donations.

Being optimistic that it will reach its initial $100,000 target, Merrill is also interested in supporting the building of more ôliteracy schoolsö in rural China. These grass root schools, which are run by the China Literacy Foundation, cost about $20,000 apiece and any money donated above the initial target will go towards this.

Aside from the zero alcohol element, Woodthorpe has no specific plan for how to achieve his weight loss target except to ôeat less and exercise moreö but says he aims to make good use of the fact that his home in Clearwater Bay is surrounded by hills. And having lost about 15 kilos in time for his wedding five years ago, he does have a pretty good idea what he is getting himself into. So come December 10, chances are Merrill will find its head of ECM a whole lot lighter û but probably desperately in the need of a drink.

For more information about the Po Leung Kuk or if you are interested in donating to the Language Training Centre, please click on the link below:

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