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One of the highlights of the week was surely my meeting with a London financier who made himself a little fortune establishing, and later selling, what became a large financial institution. After achieving great financial success he set up his own Family Office. He got himself very nice office space in a nice part of town, hired a team of professionals and started putting money into various investments. Surprisingly fast. Anyway, I went in to meet with him to explore collaboration between his office and another, much larger Family Office I know well. Without getting into details, I had a particular angle in mind I wanted to pursue. He began telling me about an investment in India he had just made. He went on to speak about it as if he had invested in the next Facebook or Google. Interesting. So I asked, “Do you have a local partner in India?” That didn’t go down well with him. “What do you mean partner?” he said. In turn, I said, “I’m asking because it’s always very helpful to have a local partner, especially in India.” He seemed irritated. “Look, we don’t need one at all and, besides, one of my colleague’s wife is Indian.” I nearly busted out laughing. So you think because one of your teammates wife is Indian you’re set to go? I nodded and didn’t say a word.

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Who says men can’t pamper themselves. A visit to Gentlemen’s Tonic on Bruton Place (Mayfair, London) was a wonderful treat after a closing a deal. I recommend their wet shave.

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The second half of the week I met with a small yet very sharp group of technology investors based near King’s Cross St. Pancras. They’re backed by a European billionaire dynasty who’ve decided to put some money to work toward tech investments. And it’s proven very lucrative – thanks to the team. [READ MORE…]

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16 January 2015

This week has been insanely hectic. It’s the 3rd week of January and everyone is eager to get things done and deals closed. For me it kicked off Monday morning with a flight to Geneva to meet with the Family Office of a British retail tycoon. Along with 4 other families they own a luxury residential development project off Park Lane (Mayfair). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the sale of the units once completed. In and out of Switzerland the same day. Given it’s with a private I don’t mind :)

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Breakfast meeting at the Dorchester with a Saudi investor – I was introduced to him by a former client – looking to invest in film. That is, intelligently invest in film (it’s a risky business). It so happens that I have a friend who runs one of the largest film co-financing vehicles in Europe and exclusive partner to the leading European film studio. And they’re fundraising now. Maybe there’s a deal to be done.

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I wait in the lobby for the Saudi to come down from his room. In the meantime, I observe the surroundings. The exclusive crowd. The polished staff.

[A reader, and most careful observer, noticed and pointed out that the time on my watch displayed an afternoon hour. Tis true. The watch is powered by movement and given I don't wear it regularly, it sometimes displays the wrong time. Good eyes Alistair!]

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Later in the week, I get a call from a friend whom I invite to lunch at The Mount Street Deli on Mount Street. He’s visiting from Mumbai, where he works for Edelweiss, the Indian investment bank. I discover he’s in town to meet UK pension funds and insurance company. He’s also keen to meet British ultra high net worth individuals of Indian descent. There are plenty in London. “Can you help,” he asked. “Perhaps,” I replied. [READ MORE…]

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Baku

I was recently in Baku on business. A friend of mine, Alex, who was CEO of a large Mongolian conglomerate, had reached out to me a few months earlier with an unusual request.

“Do you know anyone interested in acquiring a large gold deposit?” he asked.

“How large?” I said. “And what studies have been carried out to date?”

It was imperative to ask what works had been done. I was no expert in gold mining but I knew this much: it was risky business. When it comes to mining projects, it could take years and years for gold to come out of the ground. You don’t just buy a piece of land and start digging. Often, a project never even kicked off and you ended up losing lots of time and money. Also, and especially in a place like Mongolia, not all technical mining studies were alike. Some were undertaken by independent, professional organizations. Others included amateurs going around the country drilling holes with dubious equipment and machinery in a haphazard manner. On top of it all, much of the information and data on Mongolia mining licenses were from Soviet days.

“It’s an early stage proposition,” said Alex.

Sure, estimated reserves were huge. Enough to pique mining investors’ interest. Yet the opportunity carried significant risk. I wasn’t going to spend much time on it. That much I knew. But I was happy to make some calls for a friend.

“Leave it with me and I’ll come back to you,” I said.

Over the next few days I rang friends and acquaintances in London, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Canada who worked for mining investment companies. None of them got excited.

Finally, I called a family friend, Nader, who owns and runs a gold mine in Azerbaijan. To be honest, I called him not so much because I thought he’d be interested in a Mongolia gold license but more so because I thought I’d use the opportunity to catch up with him. It had been a while. So I was more than surprised to hear his reaction.

“Sounds really interesting. Send me all the details,” said Nader. [READ MORE…]

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Dealmaking is a fascinating phenomenon. An individual’s ability to influence a string of events in order to bring about a desired end, be it closing a private equity transaction with a German family business or negotiating a holiday deal with a Brazilian travel agent, is a combination of skill, luck, perseverance and sometimes magic. In fact, dealmaking is a lot like having sex. If you get into it with the wrong person it’s a horrible experience. If, however, the chemistry is right then it’s bloody amazing.

I see it in finance regularly and it invariably amazes me. Yet I am equally in awe when I witness it in other areas of business or, for that matter, outside of the commercial world.

Dealmaking is an art. And though art is open to interpretation, I believe that if you boil it (dealmaking) down to its essence some of those core principles can successfully be applied across a great number of activities: capital raising (investment banking); launching a new drink (beverage business); selling products online (Internet); setting up a wind farm (alternative energy); or brokering a Monet (art world).

London: near Trafalgar Square

A few weeks ago I met up with a very interesting acquaintance, Elliot Grove. As the founder of the Raindance Film Festival, he has been one of the biggest names in the independent film world.

The two of us hadn’t seen each other in a while and I was in the neighbourhood, having just stepped out of a meeting with an Indian Family Office. So I called him and we decided to grab coffee around the corner.

We caught up on life and he updated me on the recent going-ons at Raindance. It was your typical half hour catch-up. How are things? How are the loved ones? What’s new? What sucks?

As we got ready to part Elliot asked me where I was headed.

“It’s a nice day so I’ll head over to Hyde Park, sit somewhere and type up a short little post,” I said.

“What about?” Elliot asked.

“Don’t know yet. I’d like to write something on dealmaking.”

“Does it have to be about high finance,” he asked.

“Not necessarily.”

“Does it have to include seven zeroes to interest you?” he asked with a smile.

“Nope,” I said.

“I’ll head over to the park with you. You can listen to some Raindance stories. Then I’ll head home and leave you to digest it.”

We both hopped into a taxi. [READ MORE…]

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Dear readers,

I hope you are well and enjoying your respective summers (or winters).

I wanted to take the opportunity to give you a little update and explain why there have been so few posts published on the blog of late.

Firstly, I’m in the middle of editing my first novel. I’ve had lots of beta reader feedback and that has led me to make additional changes to the book. For the better, of course. Once I finish making this present round of edits, I’ll shoot it off to a professional editor and soon after it should be ready for your indulgence. Having to do this while juggling work and a personal life meant it’s taken longer to finish than I originally planned. That’s life, I suppose. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the end result.

Secondly, I’ve written an eBook, which will be released in the coming weeks. In short, it’s a guide to breaking into investment banking. It will help people optimise their mindset to achieve success and stand out from the competition. Some of the tactics will help readers far beyond getting into the business and becoming investment bankers. Get it on Amazon.

Thirdly, I’m in the middle of a live deal with a Swiss entrepreneur and a Russian bank…has not been an easy one.

With that being said, happy Friday the 13th!

My kindest regards,

The ibanker

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(Photo credit: NASA, Hubble Heritage)

So you’ve worked damn hard and earned compensation. Now it’s time to get paid.

Normally, most of us are remunerated in cash. And that’s cool because you know what you’re getting. It’s exact and there’s no ambiguity. It’s a fixed number. Voila.

But what if you’re given another option?

Let’s imagine that you are a provider of services and find yourself in one of the following, perfectly realistic scenarios:

  • You’ve not only got great business acumen but you’re a fluent Mandarin speaker. A promising software company looking to penetrate the China market has asked you to join their team and help launch their product there
  • You’re a branding expert and you’ve been brought on to orchestrate a launch campaign for a yoga company introducing a new form of practice to the world
  • You know plenty of investors and are confident you can secure 2 million dollars for a London-based app company that needs capital to release the potentially next hottest game in the market
  • You’ve been blessed with uniquely great looks and a film director insists you be in his next 3 films, which constitute an epic trilogy. “Darling, you’re just the face I’m looking for,” says the director with a big Hollywood smile

For these jobs and projects you’re normally offered cash. But then, unexpectedly, you’re given another option. [READ MORE…]

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Say you’re looking to do business with another party and you’ve got sensitive information you’d like to protect and avoid spreading around. Then you could use a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

In theory it should protect you.

Early on, because of my cautious nature, I jumped on every occasion to put an NDA in place. Looking back, I think to myself, man did I waste a great deal of time!

A short honeymoon

Initially, working on an NDA was exciting. What a powerful legal document, I remembering thinking over and over to myself the first few times I drafted one. You basically get a person or company to agree to keep its mouth shut in exchange for sharing with them sensitive information. It’s quite an empowering feeling. Especially if you, an individual, can get a major company to agree and sign a document guaranteeing their silence indefinitely or for a certain amount of time. Me vs. the massive corporation.

But that was early on. My relationship with NDAs has evolved since then. Now I need a damn good excuse to put one in place. [READ MORE…]

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“Investment bankers have no soul.” Now that’s something we’ve heard plenty of times in recent years, for obvious reasons.

But at the end of the day, the phrase lacks judgement. It doesn’t carry weight.

I’m not proposing an anthropological study of bankers (Joris Luyendijk has done quite a lot on the subject matter). Who has time? I just believe that even a little review of material on this species of workers would do more good than harm for everyone. It becomes part of a demystification process.

Improving the state of the world 

One of the themes of this year’s World Economic Forum was ‘Trust in Finance’.

The question addressed by several prominent Davos-goers panelling the relevant talk on that topic was this: What can be done to instil more trust in the Financial Services sector since the global banking crisis?

Naturally, the open-ended question invited a slew of thoughtful responses from leading experts.

But our beloved leaders were too busy frolicking around the Swiss Alps and skipping from one cocktail party to the next, taking silly selfies and flirting with other attendees and young servers, to consider a crucial point: the Financial Services sector is about people.

How can they tackle a whole sector when they know so little about the principal character in this unfolding drama? That is, the individual who stands at the center of the financial universe, pulling all the strings. Indeed, I speak of none other than the investment banker.

‘Trust’ is built on information, transparency, familiarity and empathy. I say to them, if you really want to change the financial services sector then begin by developing a deeper understanding of the mysterious character who makes the sector tick.

Perhaps one way to start is by drawing parallels between an investment banker and a monk.

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For a businessperson involved in the mining sector, attending a Mines and Money conference is like going on pilgrimage to the Vatican, Mecca, Jerusalem or Varanasi.

The journey begins with a longing desire to see and experience something sacred and holy. Next, preparations are made for the journey. Suits are packed, along with presentations and plenty of business cards. Upon arrival, the pilgrim joins a large group of devotees and listens to the voices of the enlightened few.

The believers are bound by a shared set of beliefs. At Mines and Money, those beliefs can be summed up into one sentence: “What lies beneath the ground holds untold riches.”

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In a nutshell, the event brings together mining companies, investors, brokers and other third parties so that they all share information, exchange ideas and – hopefully – do business.

I decided to attend the December 2013 conference in London. The event took place in the fashionable Islington district.

For one, a friend and former client had a stand there. His was one of the gold mining companies present. I wanted to catch up with him and his team on the progress of the company. Secondly, some of the most prominent figures in the business were in attendance and it was a good opportunity to discuss current trends in global mining. Amongst other things, it had been a challenging time for the sector as a whole. Many businesses had difficulty accessing capital.

On the 2nd day of the conference, whilst taking a little break, I accidentally bumped into an acquaintance of mine by a coffee table. This older gentleman, almost twice my age, happened to be one of the shareholders of the group that owns the Mines and Money conference brand. We had a brief chat and agreed to meet up the following day and go for lunch as it had been a while since we last saw one another.

Day 3

The next day when I arrived at the pre-agreed meeting point I found my friend holding two sandwiches in his hand.

Odd. Aren’t we going out?

“Come, no time to eat out. Let’s go listen to the speakers,” he said.

Not interested. The last thing I wanted to do was to listen to more speakers. I had listened to a few already and preferred to mingle with the people on the floor who manned the stands. They included geologists, CFOs, business development executives and even CEOs. “Look, I’m not so keen on listening to more speakers. Why don’t we meet up afterwards?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. The most successful mining entrepreneur of our time is speaking. You want to listen to him.”

Interesting. I reconsidered.

“And he’s a born entertainer.”

Done. “Let’s go.”

We set off in the direction of the large designated room where the speakers took turns to pontificate. My friend manoeuvred his way to the front row, asked a random stranger to move down one seat and the two of us ended up sitting next to one another. We ate our sandwiches and listened to the talk.

And then, finally, the speaker I was persuaded to listen to came on stage. Let’s call him Mr. Mining (or Mr. M). [READ MORE…]

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Time is surely one of life’s most precious commodities. Why don’t you quickly think about a lasting memory from childhood. A moment, good or bad, you can vividly recall.

Time has flown since, has it not? If you think carefully about it, within the context of your life, then you’ll agree that it (time) should never be wasted. Chances are that, as you read this, the building next to you may have been around before your mother was born and will remain long after you depart. Yet most of us (myself included) often squander it as if it has no limit. How foolish of us. We should look after it more carefully than we do our money.

Everyone’s time is precious and every day we ought to remind ourselves of its scarcity. When I do, it makes it easier for me to say “no” to events that waste my time. There are so damn many of them and they come in different forms (useless meetings, unnecessary conference calls, poorly made television shows, get-togethers I’d rather avoid, etc.). Similarly, remembering the value of time gives me joy to say “yes” to activities that feed my soul.

I can think of few more satisfying ways to spend my time than to travel. The very act takes us out of routine, which causes life to fly right past us, and breathes excitement and novelty into our being. Wonderful things can happen when one sets off on a journey.

Arousal of the senses

You’re travelling abroad in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign people, in foreign dress, serving foreign food in foreign ways. Your body, mind and soul are completely open and vulnerable to all forms of stimuli. Take me. I’m yours.

And once in a while, during your beautiful dance, for that is what you do when you travel (the rest of the time you’re pretty much sitting down), an astonishing statistical unlikelihood occurs. It arrests you at once and leaves you momentarily dumbfounded.

That is precisely what happened to me several years back in a beautiful little island off the east African coast. [READ MORE…]

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