The class of 2000 -- where are they now? Part 2

Our look back at the region’s foremost debt capital markets bankers continues with Merrill Lynch to UBS Warburg.


Head of Asia debt capital markets, Hong Kong

Now: Executive chairman, UniCredit Asia Pacific Region, Hong Kong; Chairman EdExchange; Honorary treasurer, English Schools Foundation, Hong Kong. 

Sam Poon has come a long way since he started his career as an office equipment marketing executive for Jardine Matheson. After joining Merrill Lynch in 1987, he returned to his native Hong Kong in 1998 and rapidly rose through the ranks to become one of its three co-heads of Asia-Pacific investment banking.

Retirement of a sort beckoned in early 2005 when, with characteristic fervour, he threw himself into life as an educator. Education has rivaled banking and football as the chief passions of his life and he spent the next few years teaching applied corporate finance at universities in Beijing, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Since then he has carried on running EdExchange, which he co-founded in 2005 as an online philanthropic platform that helps schools raise money and source learning opportunities for their students.

But two-and-a-half years ago, the siren call of the financial markets lured him back once more and he joined a number of his former Merrill Lynch colleagues at the European banking group UniCredit. "We focus a lot on home country connectivity," he explained. "This means we primarily serve those Asian clients who do business in Italy, Germany, Austria and the CEE countries, as well as companies from those countries that operate in Asia."

And he doesn't think Asia has actually changed that much where the fundamentals are concerned. "It's always been the most attractive place in the world to do business and I think it will stay that way," he concluded. "Two things do become more obvious. First, Asia is a capital exporter and most developed countries in the West are capital importers. Second, Asia is now the fastest growing market for finished products in addition to its long held position as the most attractive manufacturing base. I don't think a lot of people in the West truly appreciate what that means."


Managing director and head of Asia debt capital markets, Hong Kong

Now: Senior advisor, Temasek Holdings, Singapore

Irrepressible is the adjective FinanceAsia has most often attributed to Michael Dee. The 26-year Morgan Stanley veteran has made Asia his home after a brief flirtation with the US in 2004 when he went to run the bank's Houston office.

He came to the region in late 1997 and was Asia head of fixed income capital until early 2000. But it is Singapore which has defined him, first as regional CEO from 2000 to 2004 and latterly at Temasek, which he joined in 2008. He is currently transitioning out of his role there, but will remain in an advisory capacity until the end of the year and says he has no intention of leaving the region.

He attributes Asia's current strength to actions taken in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. "Dr Zeti's calm leadership at Bank Negara Malaysia has been as effective as it is impressive," he commented. "In Indonesia the crisis led to a change of government and a stable democracy. China's economic development since then has been as breathtaking as Thailand's political decent into chaos."

Yet he also says it's important to retain a sense of perspective. "I worry deeply that the current hype around Asia, and China in particular will prove unrealistic of emerging markets and will entail a further disruptive cycle of boom and bust," he added. "The dramatic scarcity of water resources in India and China is under the radar of many investors and could prove to be an unexpected risk issue generating regional and internal conflict and turmoil in the coming decades."

Over the years, Dee has been a voracious charity fundraiser. Last summer, he and 10 colleagues climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for Make-A-Wish, enabling over 100 children with life threatening diseases to realise their dreams. And this year, he crossed the harsh terrain of Chile's Atacama Desert to raise funds to send the entire Singapore Special Olympic team of more than 50 intellectually disabled athletes to the World Summer Games in Athens.

And what of the most enduring memory of his time in Asia? "Without doubt it was November 16, 1999," he replied. "I opened the door of my hotel room in Nanjing to find the head of a local orphanage with my beautiful seven-month old adopted daughter, Diana, who's Chinese name is Bao Wen. It was love at first sight and she's kept my family deeply connected with China and Asia ever since".

NOMURA - John Keith

Then: Regional head of debt capital markets, Hong Kong

Now: Managing director fixed income, Nomura, Australia

John Keith arrived in Hong Kong in late 1999 just as Asia was starting to re-emerge from the financial crisis and immediately set to work building a franchise that leveraged Nomura's Japanese roots and its strong client relationship with the Asian Development Bank. By utilising credit support programmes provided by the Miyazawa Plan and ADB, Nomura worked with sub-investment credits such as the Philippines National Oil Corp and PSALM to access the international markets.

Under his leadership, Nomura went on to make its mark with innovative securitisation transactions, including the region's first whole business securitisation for a wafer fab in Sarawak, plus pooled SME and airline financings in Malaysia and Korea.

A man whom friends describe as unfailingly courteous and considered, Keith said he feels, "very fortunate to have been in Asia during a period of extraordinary challenge and reward." And he added, "I lost close friends and team-mates during the Bali bombings in 2002 and I lived in Hong Kong during Sars, both very harrowing experiences. But overall, I feel very privileged to have spent eight years in the region."

Since then, he has moved back to Australia, initially as deputy country head and now managing director in fixed income. He has also helped set up the Australia operations of the pan-Asian educational charity Room to Read and now jointly runs its Sydney chapter.

Stephen Roberts


Head of Asia-Pacific fixed income, Hong Kong

NowChief executive officer of the Citi institutional clients group, Australia/New Zealand, and Citigroup country officer Australia

The veteran Citi banker has now clocked up 26 years in the financial markets and was a dominant force in the region's debt capital markets when he lived in Hong Kong during the early part of the decade. His no-nonsense approach and good humour enabled SSB and its domestic markets sidekick, Citibank, to capture one mandate after another.

The bank had a leading role in pretty much every single domestic bond market, although the downside for Roberts was that he never spent more than a day in each. "The one thing I don't miss is getting on a plane every Sunday night and not returning home until Friday," he said.

Like his counterpart at Goldman Sachs, Roberts cites the Republic of Korea's giant $4 billion bond as a deal that retains vivid memories for him. He also highlights the bank's many deals for Malaysian borrowers, including the sovereign and its leading corporate, Petronas.

Having left Asia at the end of 2003, Roberts loves being back home in Sydney, with the sunshine, good food and clean air topping the reasons why.

"From a business perspective, it's a great time to be here," he added. "Australia has become a good proxy for China. And Asia itself has become the engine of global growth and savings. It's exciting watching the huge investments flowing into the region. At the turn of the century, Asia was still recovering from its financial crisis and plagued by uncertainty. Now it has confidence and certainty."


Head of Asia and Middle East fixed income, Singapore

Now: Chief executive officer, Sentosa Capital, Singapore; trustee Temple Garden Foundation, Cambodia 

If he needed a testament to his success, Brad Levitt could do worse than to look to the three awards his bank won as FinanceAsia's Domestic Bond House of the Year in 2005, 2007 and 2009. It was the culmination of a job he started when he first arrived in 1998 with a remit to build Standard Chartered's debt operations from scratch.

One decade on, he had graduated to become global head of capital markets at Standard Chartered and had a thriving business across the whole region. "Every market had its benchmark issues," he recalled. "But one deal I especially remember was the one we did for Singapore LTA in 2003. It was a volatile year for debt markets, but we were able to stretch out their maturity profile to 20 years - one of the longest deals in the Singaporean bond market at that time."

After leaving the bank in 2008, Levitt spent a year on sabbatical with his family, undertaking a number of charity projects across the region. He and five families built a school for Burmese child refugees in Thailand and he become more deeply involved in a rural development charity in Cambodia, which is focused on a variety of issues including education and health. "You only need to drive an hour out of Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and you're faced with abject poverty," he said. "But the great thing about Asia is the hunger to learn and the difference a small amount of money can make."

He is currently involved in setting up a fund management company in Singapore with three former colleagues focussing on Asian Credit.

UBS WARBURG - Paddy O'Brien

Head of Asia debt capital markets, Hong Kong

Now: Partner ADM Capital Europe, London

"I really miss Asia's can-do approach and its entrepreneurial spirit," Paddy O'Brien said of his six years in Asia. He arrived in 2000 just as the merger between UBS and SBC Warburg Dillon Reed was starting to bear fruit, transforming the two entities into a single investment banking powerhouse.

It enabled O'Brien to help create a formidably competitive debt capital markets franchise that was particularly strong in high yield and bank capital.

This first became apparent in 2001 when UBS scored a hat trick in the subordinated debt markets with a $2.14 billion deal for OCBC - the region's largest ever bank capital deal. This was followed by other debut transactions, including a $125 million sub-debt issue for Bank Mandiri the following year and one for the Philippines Banco D'Oro the year after that.

O'Brien was also one of the leading lights behind a string of transactions towards the middle of the decade, which helped Indonesia to rehabilitate itself with high-yield investors.

He left Asia for London in 2006, but found life in the City a huge shock to the system and was soon looking for a new challenge. That turned out to be ADM Capital, founded by a group of his friends just over a decade earlier. "Their whole focus had been Asia," he said. "I wanted to replicate that in emerging Europe where I saw similar types of investment opportunities."

And he has. So far, he has launched two funds, the latest of which - CEECAT Recovery Fund -- had its first close in May and is targeting €300 million by its final close later in the year. "ADM started off as a hedge fund targeting distressed debt," he explained. "It now has eight funds under its belt and has morphed into an investor that's focused on re-habilitating operationally strong, but distressed companies

And he concluded, "I really wish I'd become a fund manager years ago. "It's great being your own boss and I much prefer being an investor in a trade rather than its broker."

This is part two of a four-part series. Tune in on Thursday for more. 

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