StanChart said to oust private equity CEO, mull closing unit

Standard Chartered dismissed the head of its private-equity business and is weighing plans to shutter the unit over the next two years. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Standard Chartered dismissed the head of its private-equity business and is weighing plans to shutter the unit over the next two years, according to people familiar with the matter.

The lender this week ousted Joseph Stevens, the head of Standard Chartered Private Equity, and Bert Kwan, who helped run the business in Southeast Asia, said the people, who requested anonymity as the matter isn't public.

Chief executive officer Bill Winters, who had discussed selling the business to the unit's managers, now favours winding it down after disagreements on price, the people said.

Shaun Gamble, a spokesman for the London-based bank, declined to comment beyond a September statement that Standard Chartered is "looking at non-core businesses, or those that do not sit within our tightened risk tolerance."

Mr Winters is overhauling risk-taking at a lender that's written down billions of dollars of loans and investments over the past two years as commodity prices crashed. The division that houses SCPE lost US$197 million for the nine months through September, while an energy investment is embroiled in a US bribery probe.

"We are consistently looking at all of our businesses, both in terms of their outright performance but also how they fit with our portfolio - and in the context of evolving regulatory capital rules and our risk tolerances," Mr Winters said on a call with reporters on Tuesday (Nov 1), declining to comment specifically on the discussions involving the private-equity unit.

SCPE manages about US$5 billion, including the bank's own funds and money from external investors including Goldman Sachs Group. The unit owns stakes in about 80 companies across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, from a Nigerian energy producer to a Jordanian chicken company.

It was making new investments as recently as July, when it bought a "significant stake" in Phoon Huat & Co, the Singapore company that's been selling baking ingredients since 1947.

Standard Chartered informed authorities in the US, the UK, Singapore and Indonesia earlier this year about "inappropriate payments" at MAXpower Group Pte, one of SCPE's investments, Winters told reporters this week. MAXpower CEO Greg Karpinski, an ex-SCPE executive appointed to run the energy company in 2015, intends to step down later this month, people familiar with the matter said earlier this week.

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