The new FIG boss at JP

Helge Weiner-Trapness could have been an Alpine skier, but instead he chose to be JPMorgan''s head of financial institutions group. We profile him.

Given the choice would you choose to race down snow-capped mountains at close to 68 miles an hour, skirting past pine trees to the sound of cowbells, hunched low in freshly waxed skis, knowing that you are split seconds away from national glory and a possible Olympic gold medal; or would you choose to become an investment banker?

This was the stark choice presented to the fresh-faced Helge Weiner-Trapness. The new JPMorgan head of FIG (financial institutions group) was a highly accomplished Alpine skier, and at the age of 19 had to decide whether he was going to commit the next seven years of his life to Val d'Isere, Kitzbuhel and Val Gardena, or to a life of spreadsheets, contested hostile takeovers and New York bagels.Helge Weiner 2

Weiner-Trapness - born of a Norwegian father and Austrian mother - was brought up in Sweden, and from the age of 10 was coached by a Swedish skiing champion and future national team coach. Weiner-Trapness was accepted into the Swedish Ski Academy, which meant that his schooling was made to fit around his skiing in much the same way that child actors' academic studies are made to fit around film schedules. Weiner-Trapness and his fellow students at the ski academy spent almost nine months of the year on skis.

It quickly became evident that Weiner-Trapness was gifted with immense technical skills and began to specialize accordingly in the slalom and the giant slalom. At the age of 19, his coaches told him that they considered him an excellent skier who would take a couple of more years to develop into a professional Alpine racer.

"I was faced with a choice," says Weiner-Trapness. "I knew that I would peak as a skier when I was 25, and that this was a long time to wait."

The young Scandinavian took a bold decision to go to America. His ski academy had an exchange programme in East Burke, Vermont and this allowed him to still ski while he assessed his options. His father was a doctor, and the son's initial fervour was to pursue a similar course. Then he changed his mind and decided to follow a liberal arts course of economics and politics, settling on Williams College near Boston. Located in the Northwest corner of Massachusetts, Williams is a tiny college of only 2000 students that rather resembles the isolated academia of Donna Tartt's Secret History.

It was here that Weiner-Trapness honed his mental skills, his soccer, and met his future wife - a second generation Filipino American. He also began reading the Wall Street Journal.

He graduated in 1987, which was a year that drew many a young mind into the world of investment banking. These were the days when greed was truly good and Wall Street was the fashion icon of America along with mobile phones the size of small bricks.

Weiner-Trapness had an additional reason to choose an investment bank. As a Swede, he knew that only the consulting firms and the investment banks were geared up to procure US work permits for talented hires. Helge Weiner Trapness

He interviewed with all the major firms and was hired by Goldman Sachs, which he would work for until January this year.

He started out as an analyst in the corporate finance department before going to Harvard Business School for an MBA and then returning full time to corporate finance, where he was assigned to 'general industries' - a catch-all phrase for virtually everything that was not a telco or a bank.

During the 90s he worked on deals in virtually every industry. He was part of the team that executed the $2.6 billion merger of Santa Fe Pacific with Burlington Northern in 1995; and the next year was part of the team that launched the $1 billion convertible preferred offering for Microsoft. Likewise, as the 90s became more technologically focused so did he, gaining deep insights in the hardware area from work he did on the $1.6 billion sale of Motorola's low end semiconductor business to Texas Pacific Group in 1998.

In 1999 he was promoted into the healthcare group, which had a special focus on biotech and pharma companies. Here he worked on the $50 billion megamerger between Warner-Lambert and Pfizer and the $950 million equity offering for Celera Genomics.

By now he was a seasoned Goldman banker. It was at this point that he recalls a summer holiday back in Sweden, where he took his wife and two daughters to see the grandparents. Late one night over a glass of something strong, his father finally worked up the courage to admit that while Goldman was great, he was still a little disappointed that his elder boy had hung up his skis and not spent the previous decade emulating Ingmar Stenmark as a world cup skier.

The source of his disappointment was the fact that his own father had been a stern authoritarian who prevented him from pursuing his talent as a ski jumper in favour of a 'sensible' career in medicine. To make matters worse, Helge's younger brother, Per-Arne, had also gone through the ski academy, shown similar promise, and chose instead an investment banking career in the tech sector with Alex Brown (he is now with Deutsche Bank in London).

If Ibsen were alive he might be able to make something of this inter-generational tale. Anyway, Weiner-Trapness had supped deeply from Goldman's workaholic culture; and he was being offered a variety of international postings. He turned down the idea of going to London and running Scandinavia, as he saw that the potential deal flow from this part of the world was never going to be huge. He also rejected the idea of going to Frankfurt, and who can blame him.

Then in early 2000 he accepted the chance to relocate to Hong Kong as the co-head of the tech group; and with his background doing deals with hardware companies, he soon began focusing on clients such as Legend and TSMC, and was thus unfazed by the implosion of the dotcom sector.
Then in January this year he made a bold move to leave Goldman and join JPMorgan, where he was lured by its Asian boss, Ralph Parks. The fact that Parks was another former Goldman banker probably helped. It also probably helped that Parks was the first banker that Weiner-Trapness worked for when he joined as an analyst in 1987.

Weiner-Trapness originally joined JPMorgan as the co-head of general industries, but last month - not for the first time in his diverse career - he was thrown a curve ball. After four years in Asia, the head of the financial institutions group, James Von Moltke, was scheduled to head back to the US. And while FIG is one of the few areas where Weiner-Trapness had little experience, he was seen as the natural successor.

He is now on a steep FIG learning curve, with the well regarded Von Moltke due to handover full control in January. Given that FIG is probably JPMorgan's centre of excellence, Weiner-Trapness knows he has a lot to live up to, and is very excited. "I have spent my whole career being put into new areas and I love the process of learning about industries. With JPMorgan it is particularly exciting because we have this massive platform that is really now starting to work as one unit. Nowhere is that more true than the FIG group."

Indeed, JPMorgan has won FinanceAsia's Best FIG house for the past two years and Weiner-Trapness knows the firm wants to retain the top spot: "James has created a tremendous team and that is something I hope to build on."

But we cannot resist asking, why would someone give up the adrenalin thrill of skiing for the chess-like pace of investment banking? "Actually, Alpine skiing and investment banking are similar in a couple of respects," he says. "When you are racing you spend a whole day chatting, and waiting for the two moments when you race. In those moments you have to absolutely focus. And it is all about preparation. I have seen careless guys come out of their bindings at the start of the race because of slack preparation."

And him? "I have never come out my bindings," he smiles.

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