WhoÆs backing Blair?

What Hong Kong-based private equity group is bankrolling ex-JF Asset Management supremo Blair Pickerell''s new initiative?

Blair Pickerell, who recently left Jardine Fleming Asset Management to establish Capital Holdings, a vehicle to invest in the Mainland mutual funds industry, has revealed that his financial backers are Hong Kong-based private equity firm UCL Asia.

Toby Brown, one of UCL's partners, says its support has provided Capital Holdings with a $25 million balance sheet, making it one of the city's best capitalized fund companies. He says UCL is in discussions with other institutions in the Greater China region about additional investments into the new vehicle.

UCL's strategy is to pinpoint uniquely talented individuals who can execute a business plan and create the financial structure to support them.'

The $250 million limited partnership has brokered deals with several high-profile companies in Asia. Last year it bankrolled the creation of Compass Technology, a successful Hong Kong manufacturer of semiconductor IC packaging interconnect materials. It backed the management buyout of Noble Group, which has since seen its annual turnover in raw industrial materials jump from $400 million to $3 billion. It also was an early financier of India's Zee Telefilms, and later sold its stake to News Corporation.

UCL's partners Brown and James Peter O'Donnell met while managing the Asian operations for the family fortune of the late UK magnate James Goldsmith. Prior to that, Brown worked in Taiwan for a local financial services company, while O'Donnell ran BT's Asian private equity operations. They conducted their own MBO of the Goldsmith Asia office to create UCL. The firm is backed by institutional investors such as IBM.

Their deals involve targeting talented leaders. Brown says UCL sees the same level of ability in Pickerell as, say, Noble Group's CEO, Richard Elman. "Blair is arguably responsible for 25% of the value of Jardine Fleming," says Brown, noting Pickerell's track record in building the mutual fund business in Taiwan and Hong Kong. "We've been trying to lure him out of his corporate confines for several years."

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