The satisfaction of closing the deal

Meet JPMorgan's Catherine Leung, who's hooked on the adrenalin rush of raising money and making a marriage of two companies work.
While dining at NicholiniÆs in the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong, Catherine Leung and I chatted about M&A activity in China, whether or not the second half of the year will be better than the first, and how good it is to be in Asia during these volatile times. As the lobster was served, she struck on the beauty of investment banking.

ôYou get to see a deal get done,ö says Leung, head of Hong Kong investment banking for JPMorgan. ôYou get the satisfaction of taking something to its completion.ö

Leung, who started out as a consultant specialising in the financial services industry at Oliver, Wyman & Company in New York prior to joining JPMorgan in 1994, was obviously comparing banking to consulting û where you tend to get to say whatÆs wrong, but youÆre paid as much to find the next problem as you are to solve existing ones. ItÆs a world of never-ending noncompletion, surely a level of DanteÆs hell.

Banking is about finishing deals.

And thatÆs what makes this current market condition û with every bank talking about its pipeline, and few deals getting done û so frustrating. But Leung is optimistic. She is upbeat about outward-bound M&A in key sectors in China such as financial services and natural resources, and is hopeful that the equities market will present windows of opportunities.

ôThe subprime crisis started as a consumer-led crisis which could spill over further to the corporate sector and will take a much longer period to weather through. Investors definitely have cash but are seeing the glass as half empty at the moment.ö

Last year, she won praise for JPMorganÆs sole financial adviser role in the $900 million sale of Pacific Century Insurance to Fortis. And she was also key in getting the sole underwriter role in the $553 million placement for Sino Land, which was one of the largest placements for a Hong Kong corporate in 2007.

LeungÆs transaction experience this year includes working on the $151 million placement of primary shares for Noble Group; and the $500 million bond for Swire Pacific, which has been billed as re-opening the corporate bond market in Asia. And she led the team that advised China Merchants Bank on its successful bid for Wing Lung Bank recently at a transaction size of $4.7 billion.

So despite the downturn, sheÆs been busy. And like other experienced bankers, sheÆs philosophical about the market. The bear has been here before; and with 14 years in New York and Hong Kong, LeungÆs wrestled the bear before.

ôThe difference between this market compared to the last bear market in 2001 and 2002 is that corporates want to do things, and CEO optimism is relatively high, which was not the case last time around.ö

Path to Banking
In part, her banking experience is thanks to her dad. After graduating with an undergraduate degree from The Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, summa cum laude, in 1990, Leung went to work as a consultant in New York. But after a few years of identifying problems for corporations, that sense of non-completion bothered her. The job wasnÆt feeding her soul.

And so she called her father in Hong Kong and asked for advice. He suggested she call Ivan Lee; Leung's and LeeÆs dads were friends when the two were growing up and Lee had become a JPMorgan banker. Leung called and chatted. He recommended she contact JPMorgan. Leung did û and the two stayed in touch.

Two years later, they married, he moved on to Citi, and they are now parents of an eight-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. The anecdote of how her dad guided Leung to find both the dream job and man seems fitting. She listened to her father. Listening is one of LeungÆs most obvious strong suits. ItÆs one of the traits that always awes me when I meet with her. She pays attention intently, hearing out your view, whether itÆs about the state of the market or on the difficulties of parenting and working 24-7. You always get the sense that sheÆs 100% focused on you, and will chew on your thoughts and see how they apply to her life and work. That intensity of focus on your thoughts must go far with clients.

Indeed, her clients û Cheung Kong, Noble, Kerry, Bank of East Asia û come back to her again and again. For example, last year, JPMorgan was hired as the sole bookrunner for the $300 million convertible bond for Kerry Properties, making it the only bank that has completed all three convertible offerings for the Kerry Group of companies.

ôOur business, unlike asset management, for instance, is not an annuity business. It is more a feast-or-famine business characterised by very binary outcomes. We need to be able to convert what may be a one-off transaction into an annuity stream of transactions from any client through trust. It is not unchallenging but being able to do so can be tremendously satisfying.ö

And that attention to others isnÆt just an in-the-moment conversation skill. Leaving NicholiniÆs, she stops to talk to a half dozen folks, from clients to the manager of the hotel. She knows everyone, remembers their name, and makes the small talk that is the hallmark of a successful investment banker.

Brief bio

Current position
Head of Hong Kong investment banking for JPMorgan

Graduated with an undergraduate degree from The Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, summa cum laude, in 1990. She majored in finance and accounting

Spending time with her family, going to the opera, playing golf

This story was initially published in the July issue of FinanceAsia magazine.
¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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