Banker tries to bat hard for his clients

Mr Magnus (above) hopes his all-out commitment to clients will set Evercore apart in South-east Asia's M&A scene.
Mr Magnus (above) hopes his all-out commitment to clients will set Evercore apart in South-east Asia's M&A scene. ST PHOTO: TAMARA CRAIU

M&A investment bank CEO has no qualms telling a client not to do a transaction

Before building the local branch of United States investment bank Evercore Asia into the merger and acquisition (M&A) powerhouse it is today, chief executive Keith Magnus had to endure plenty of sweat and pain. Literally.

It was just months away from the official Singapore launch of Evercore in March last year, when he fractured his knees during a skiing holiday in Switzerland.

"I took a week off before Christmas in 2014, ahead of a very heavy deal execution schedule while we also prepared for our launch here," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Magnus may have been brought to his knees but he was not about to lay down in despair.

"Despite the fact that I was in a fair amount of pain, I travelled, over a four-week period to the US two times, also to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur for three separate deals.

"I was rushing from one airport to another in wheelchair and crutches. But you just have to do it. When someone trusts you with something, you are not going to let him down."

The all-out commitment to clients was what defined his career as an investment banker, and what he hopes will set Evercore apart in South-east Asia's M&A scene.

"Clients give plaudits to us for being objective in our investment advice. We pride ourselves on being independent and putting the client's interest first," Mr Magnus said. "That means we have no qualms about telling a client not to do a transaction and, in fact, we have done so on many occasions in the past two years."

Yet, Evercore can still boast a long list of successful deals wrapped up over a very short span of time. The M&A investment bank has been well established in the US for 20 years but the groundwork for a regional launch was laid only in 2013, with the 42-year-old Singaporean at the helm.

Since then, Mr Magnus and his team have provided advice on several major international deals. Last year, the bank was the financial adviser to Singtel on its $1.15 billion acquisition of US cyber-security firm Trustwave.

Also last year, it was involved in the ongoing merger deal between Biosensors and CB Medical, a transaction estimated to be worth $1.45 billion. The joint venture between US food giant Kellogg and Tolaram in Singapore was another deal on Mr Magnus' list of career achievements.

Being named the best M&A House in Singapore by The Asset in December further underlined a very productive year for Evercore and a rewarding journey for Mr Magnus, who had been the Singapore head for investment banking at Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and UBS previously.

Leaving the comfort of big institutions behind to build something new from scratch was a move that surprised many of his peers, but for Mr Magnus, it was an opportunity to reconnect with his ideal.

"Since the global financial crisis, regulators around the world have started to require banks to have more capital for the same business they do. So the profit yielded in a trade has come down," he said.

"This places immense pressure on big international banks to push the front-line investment bankers to bring in the revenue. Bankers have become sales-driven product pushers, which I think is changing the core philosophy of investment banking advice.

"I made that decision to join Evercore because I want to be back in touch with my core values, to be the type of banker that makes sure we are batting very hard for a client and we're doing a deal that's optimal for his or her future."

And having laid a strong foundation for the bank, his next challenge is to make sure that philosophy continues to drive his team of 16 bankers in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the bank is ready for what may be a very busy year. "This year, we expect there to be another 10 to 15 per cent downside to equities and, obviously, the outlook of energy prices is quite uncertain. That will be born out of slower earnings growth in Asia, and there will be a time when the markets will consolidate and try to find a bottom.

"In fact, we think now is the time for companies to start identifying what to invest in, because things will come back to an even keel by the second half," Mr Magnus said, adding that Evercore now has over 10 ongoing deals on its table involving companies in the resources, infrastructure and real estate businesses.

Outside his busy schedule, Mr Magnus hopes he has enough time left for his three children - aged seven, 10 and 12 - and community roles, such as the parent association chairman at the Anglo-Chinese School, and business committee member of the Football Association of Singapore.

Besides what he does for Evercore, he hopes he is also leaving a valuable legacy as a person. "Without our name cards, who are we as a person? It's the character and values that define you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'People Banker tries to bat hard for his clients'. Print Edition | Subscribe