BARCLAYS CAPITAL – Stephen Li
Stephen Li was born in the UK, but raised in Hong Kong. After completing university in the UK he worked for nine years in London before being dispatched to Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong for a two-year period to establish a debt capital markets business in Asia. Some 20 years later, Li is still based in Hong Kong.
Li’s time at Barclays was punctuated by the launch of the euro in 1999, which gave the bank a big marketing advantage over the US banks that had dominated issuance from Asia in the run up to the Asian financial crisis. For Barclays, this culminated in winning the much sought after mandate to launch debut euro deals for Malaysia in 2000 and the People’s Republic of China in 2001. Such was the competition to win the latter deal that BNP Paribas was said to have lined up French President Jacques Chirac to plead with Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin.
Since leaving Barclays and investment banking in the middle of 2002, Li has been a private investor and also sits on the boards of several banks and acts as an advisor to a number of hedge funds. “There are things I miss about being an investment banker,” he said, “but they’re outweighed by the freedom to use my time to focus on the things that interest me.”
And while he notes the phenomenal growth of the region’s domestic bond markets, he said there’s more work to do yet. “Many of the domestic markets remain very insular with limited international investor participation. This is where the next stage of development needs to be.”
BNP OAKREED - Patrick Thomas
Then: Managing director, Hong Kong
Now: Property developer and portfolio manager, France
Patrick Thomas was one of the early pioneers of Asia's domestic bond markets. He first came to the region in 1983 working for Manufacturers Hanover, but he will be best remembered for the boutique investment bank he founded in 1990 with capital from his great friend David Li, CEO of Bank of East Asia. His company, Oakreed Financial Services, went on to become one of the dominant forces of Hong Kong's domestic bond market before it was bought by BNP in 1997.
Thomas himself retired in 2000, though he hesitates to use that word during his frequent visits back to Hong Kong. "I found that every time I went to a cocktail party, people's eyes would glaze over and they'd quickly move on if I said I was retired," he remarked. "Hong Kong being what it is, parties are where people go to schmooze with potential clients. So my wife suggested people would be more likely to talk to us if we described ourselves as property developers and portfolio managers. And in fact she's been a very canny player, dipping in and out of the local property market every 18 months or so. We now have a clutch of properties around the world"
Two of those properties are in Europe, where Thomas and his wife now live. Six months of the year are spent in Switzerland at a small village just outside Verbier and six months in the South of France, in a small village near Cannes.
Thomas has no regrets about leaving the Asian bond markets where he believes margins became wafer thin some years ago. However, he has spent two of the past 10 years advising the Malaysian Securities Commission on developing a local bond market in the country. And he's also now turned his hand to day trading equities and oil futures.
A Malaysian Chinese wife and his long tenure in Asia often bring him back to the region, but he says Hong Kong isn't an ideal place to retire. "Hong Kong has become incredibly polluted," he noted. "Another big change is hearing Mandarin being spoken more often, but other than that the main difference is that there isn't one. Restaurants and nightclubs may have changed names, but the spirit of the place remains the same. It's a great place to do business."
Of the thousands of deals he once printed, he says the one that stands out most clearly was launched 22 years ago -- the first ever international issue in Hong Kong dollars, a HK$391 million 10-year bond for Qantas, guaranteed by the Australian government.
Then: Head of fixed income, Asia, Hong Kong
Now: Head of the global special situations group, J.P. Morgan, Hong Kong
Sleep is something Chris Nicholas still says he only does on planes. But, this doesn’t yet seem to have dimmed his enthusiasm for the financial markets. And indeed, the man described by one of my former colleagues as Peter Pan because of his youthful looks and personable manner, is also Asia’s longest serving Western banker on this list.
Having first arrived in Asia back in the early 1990’s, Nicholas has risen through the ranks to run the special situations group for J.P. Morgan, based in Hong Kong. He now oversees investments covering approximately 250 companies across the world and from a range of different sectors.
“My current job is a culmination of all the different skills I’ve learnt throughout my career, whether trading, syndicate, origination or management,” he said. “I started off as a trader and you need a trader's mindset to know which companies to invest in and which to avoid. “
And he has no desire to leave Asia anytime soon either. “This region has such an interesting mix of cultures and people,” he commented. “And the regulatory system is still developing here. It’s been interesting helping to shape that and I like the fact that I still have opportunities to be creative here, compared to the West where formats are more fixed.”
He cites a $750 million sole led deal for PCCW in 2001 as his favourite bond deal – no doubt because J.P. Morgan stole a march on a number of its competitors to bring the transaction to market. “Back then, there were no clearly established leaders in Asian DCM,” he concluded. “It provided opportunities for the right group of people to create something quite special.”
CREDIT SUISSE FIRST BOSTON – Carsten Stoehr
Then: Head of Asia debt capital markets, Hong Kong
Now: Head of Asia-Pacific fixed income, Credit Suisse, Hong Kong
For FinanceAsia, the crowning glory of its relationship with Credit Suisse’s DCM team, was winning a wager, which shore Carsten Stoehr and his then syndicate head, Alister Moss, of their locks. It was 2002, the World Cup was being held in South Korea and Japan and the two bankers agreed to go bald should South Korea beat Spain in the quarter-finals and FinanceAsia raised more than $10,000 for Oxfam Hong Kong. South Korea won by a whisker and FinanceAsia raised $12,000, which was complemented by a further $15,000 from Credit Suisse to build a school with Oxfam in Jiuzai, in China’s Yunnan Province.
The man whom colleagues described as Asia’s answer to George Clooney took the hair loss in his stride. Since then, the half-German, half-Japanese banker has changed jobs a number of times before returning to Hong Kong. “I always joke that despite everywhere I’ve been over the past decade, my desk has only actually moved five metres,” he said.
Having arrived in Hong Kong in 1999, Stoehr beefed up the bank’s lacklustre debt capital markets operations by re-focusing on Indonesia and building up a thriving high-yield business. In 2003, he moved back to Europe to run DCM there, before heading off to Japan two years later to become the country’s head of fixed income. From there, he was given additional responsibility to run interest rate products in Asia-Pacific and subsequently all of fixed income across the region, returning back to Hong Kong in July 2009.
“There’s clearly a reason why I keep coming back to Asia,” he said. “There’s a whole range of cultures here and it’s a complex region to run for that reason, but also a fascinating one. “
Stoehr also believes Credit Suisse has been able to thrive because of the way it survived the financial crisis. “We have a strong capital position and our Asian operations have an incredible depth of experience,” he added. “The average tenure of our senior managers here is 14 years. That’s unusual in a region where there’s high turnover of foreign staff.”
He also says he’s excited by the potential of the region’s debt markets. “The growth of Asia’s purchasing power has been phenomenal,” he commented. “It’s what’s enabled these markets to grow so substantially and I’m really enthused by the number of credit funds being set up here. They span the whole gamut – from distressed debt to flow credit and from regional players to global funds expanding in the region.”
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DEUTSCHE BANK - Darcy Lai
Then: Head of South Asia debt capital markets
He spent five years at Deutsche, but it is Barclays with which most market players associate Darcy Lai. His departure from the German bank in the summer of 2001 led to the defection of about one dozen of his colleagues who joined him to set up a debt capital markets business at their former British rival.
And it was in the FIG (financial institutions group) space that they were to make their mark, starting with an innovative $200 million hybrid tier-1 deal for Hana Bank in December 2002, and followed by a record-breaking $400 million lower tier-2 deal for Malaysia's Public Bank in 2005.
One decade on and Lai is still a firm believer in the power of the G3 markets. "Despite all the hype about Asia's domestic bond markets, the US dollar market is still considered the premier place to raise money," he said. "The local markets have attracted a lot of focus and they have grown considerably, but underwriting practices have not developed as quickly as for their equity counterparts."
One big change, Lai noted, is the shift away from Southeast Asia. "The deal landscape has changed," he said. "Before there was a lot of focus on Southeast Asia and Korea. Now it's all about China and India. And the investor profile has changed too. These days international investors look to Asia to take the lead."
Lai's success in building up a debt capital markets team was rewarded with a promotion to head of Asian investment banking at Barclays in the middle of 2002. One year ago, he left and has spent the past 12 months on an extended holiday around Asia.
Would he like to come back to the financial markets? Yes possibly. "Who else would employ me with this skill set?" he joked.
GOLDMAN SACHS - Carlos Cordeiro
Then: Vice chairman Asia, Hong Kong
Now: Advisory director, Goldman Sachs; board director BHP Billiton; director and treasurer United States Soccer Federation and vice chairman USA World Cup 2018/2022 bid committee; director emeritus Half the Sky Foundation; and trustee of Nick Faldo's trust, Tomorrow's Champions.
Goldman's famously workaholic banker has mellowed over the years, but even in "retirement" he still manages to fit in an incredible breadth of activities as the list above attests.
Cordeiro hails from Indo-Portuguese and Colombian parents and his life is also one with a mixed international blend that finds its most natural base in Asia. "Hong Kong is still my home," he said, "and it's given me a degree of continuity in my life."
Having joined Goldman in 1990, Cordeiro first came to Asia in 1997 and made his mark almost immediately upon arrival by leading Hutchison Whampoa's first international bond deal the same year. Cordeiro continued to work closely with the Hutchison group across a number of subsequent financing and advisory transactions for many years thereafter and many would argue that Hutchison's strong relationship with Goldman started with the debt capital markets business.
His dedication to the job was rewarded when he was made vice chairman in 2000 and after officially standing down from the firm in 2002 he has stayed on as an advisory director for the past eight years. "Most people stay on for a couple of years, but I still enjoy very much working with Goldman Sachs in an advisory role," he added.
The advisory role for Goldman is what he calls the first of his three pillars. The second is his other corporate work, which includes his board directorships and extensive involvement with the US Soccer Federation. The third is his charity work and his involvement has been instrumental in helping FinanceAsia to raise many thousands of dollars at our Annual Awards dinners over the years.
And his favourite clients, aside from Hutchison Whampoa? "I don't have a favourite client per se, but I think that working with the Korean government in 1998 to issue the $4 billion global bond at the height of the Asian financial crisis was a very special experience. I have always been impressed with the Koreans' ability to adapt. It's probably why I still maintain many very close relationships there and hope to do so for years to come."
HSBC - Mark Bucknall
Then: Global head of debt capital markets, Hong Kong
Now: Sabbatical, the World; director Schools Relief Initiative, London
As one of HSBC's most loyal lieutenants, Mark Bucknall is the banker who was largely responsible for shaping HSBC's debt capital markets platform into the global fighting force it is today. Having arrived in Hong Kong in 1994, he's always been the first to admit that the first few years were a hard slog leveraging the bank's experience in the Hong Kong dollar markets and persuading corporate clients to trust it with an international bond mandate.
The biggest breakthrough, arguably, came in 1999 when borrowers started to re-emerge on the other side of the financial crisis and HSBC launched the first of what was to become a pretty much unbroken run of international mandates for Hong Kong's top borrowers.
One borrower that Bucknall has fond memories of is KCRC, which made its debut that year, and in particular its late chairman and CEO, KY Yeung. "He was such an incredibly intelligent man," Bucknall recalled. " A real character. He used to send us emails in Latin as a joke."
HSBC went on to capitalise on its initial successes with Hong Kong borrowers to gain mandates across the rest of the region and finally, the rest of the world. Bucknall himself moved to New York in 2002 to become CEO of HSBC Securities before following his mentor and boss, Stuart Gulliver, to London in 2003, where he was subsequently promoted to co-head of global investment banking.
Since 2006, Bucknall has been on an indefinite "sabbatical" from the financial markets and has dedicated a lot of his time to an educational charity in Sri Lanka, which he set up with some of his friends from FinanceAsia. As he said, "All of us who've worked in the financial markets have been incredibly lucky and like many of us, I wanted to give something back."
He still prefers Asia as a place to do business. "It was always great being surrounded by people who were motivated to get things done. There's a phenomenal work ethic in Asia, which I really miss."
Then: Head of Asia debt capital markets, Hong Kong
Now: Partner, Prytania Group, London; Founding partner Egnisco LLP; Welsh farmer
Marc Jones arrived in Asia at the very height of the Asian financial crisis and two years later, his efforts spurred J.P. Morgan on to win our award for Best International Bond House two years running in 2000 and 2001.
His former expertise running J.P. Morgan's European FIG debt capital markets business was to serve him well in Asia where he pioneered numerous bank capital transactions. In Korea, he was instrumental in helping to re-capitalise the banking sector in the aftermath of the financial crisis, most notably with Hanvit's groundbreaking $850 million subordinated debt issue in 2000 -- the first ever issue of upper tier-2 debt by a non-investment grade bank. And in Singapore, he led the team which put together the innovative acquisition financing that enabled UOB to buy OUB in 2001.
After returning to Europe at the end of 2006, he quickly decided that he wanted to branch out of investment banking and has now put his boundless energy to good use by transforming his family's Victorian arable and dairy farm back home in Wales. This led him to set up a biomass energy company, which aims to utilise renewable energy sources such as wood or waste to generate heat for commercial use.
And he's also still kept busy with the markets through his role at Prytania, a risk advisory and asset management service set up by a group of former J.P. Morgan bankers. As he explained, "We're a partnership, which provides risk management and risk advisory services for financial institutions, which want help with their risk audit or to outsource management of their legacy structured finance portfolios ."
And like everyone on this list, Jones still misses Asia. "I had to travel a huge amount for work, but I often stayed on at the weekends, so I could really get to know the region better," he said. "I loved the service culture and the hospitality I received. I think the only countries I never managed to visit where Bhutan, North Korea and Mongolia."
Then: Head of Asia debt capital markets origination
Now: Head of client management for global markets, Societe Generale, Hong Kong
After 19 years in debt capital markets origination, Sean Liu hopped over to the other side of the fence in 2009 when he took up a role in the sales and trading division at Societe Generale. "It's exciting working for a bank that's building up a new platform," he said. "Soc Gen used its equity derivatives expertise to create a global capital markets and new issue platform in Europe and now it's replicating that franchise in Asia as well. "
Liu was born in Taiwan, but lived in Europe and the US before settling in Hong Kong, which has been his home for the past 14 years. "Asia has such dynamism and energy," he enthused. "It's been great seeing how this place just continues to grow and I really don't see the opportunities slowing down anytime soon."
While he was at Lehman Brothers, Liu was part of a team that was particularly active just before the Asian financial crisis, for example leading Kexim's debut global bond to market in 1996, alongside the Kingdom of Thailand's debut Yankee and Tenaga's Century bond. "Back then the market was dominated by plain vanilla issuance for the region's top sovereigns and sovereign-related issuers," he commented. "It's so much more multi-faceted now. We're starting to see a thriving private placement market for banks and a market for hybrid high-yield deals with returns indexed to the performance of other asset classes."
This is part one of a four-part series; tune in tomorrow for more.