Joshua Siaw is the person to know if you want to get a deal done or meet with an otherwise unavailable African magnate or political leader.
From travelling back and forth from his base in London to sub-Saharan Africa on almost a weekly basis, Siaw has penetrated the highest levels of the political and financial classes in the region as a result of his charm, persistence and knowledge of local conditions.
“Being African, I understand the continent, I know how business works on the continent and I also understand, from my experience of working as a lawyer on numerous global transactions, the language and requirements of the international business community – so connecting these two worlds comes naturally to me,” he says.
Siaw has not always mingled with Africa’s elite. Although his family is originally from Ghana, Siaw grew up in one of the most deprived areas in south London and attended an inner-city state school.
“Where I grew up was quite challenging and my secondary school, at the time, had one of the worst records in the UK,” he says.
Despite this, through sheer hard work, determination and focus, Siaw coaxed his way into college to complete his A-levels, and won a place at King’s College London to study law.
After completing his training, Siaw worked at a couple of law firms before settling at White & Case to head the law firm's Africa practice – a project he campaigned for from the start. To get such responsibility at such an early age is a testament to Siaw’s intelligence and dedication to his home country of Ghana and the continent.
As director, Siaw has worked on various landmark cross-border finance deals in Africa. On the sovereign side, his firm represented Rwanda on its debut $400 million Eurobond in 2013 and Namibia on its debut $500 million sovereign bond issue in 2011. The firm has also acted as adviser to Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Zambia, Senegal and Nigeria on other fund-raising projects.
One of the most recent and pivotal deals Siaw advised on was the $104 million acquisition by Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) in Nigeria for a 70% stake in east African player Fina Bank.
The deal, which closed in February this year, saw GTB become the first sub-Saharan bank to list global depository receipts on the London Stock Exchange and the first Nigerian company to access the US markets. It also allowed GTB to expand its business and access east African markets including Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
“The deal was ground-breaking, as it was one of the first to really highlight intra-Africa trade in the financial services sector and how Nigerian banks are breaking traditional patterns and becoming pan-African,” says Siaw.
In February, Siaw was recognized and awarded as a Young Business Leader in Africa by the African Union Commission and the Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation – a UK-headquartered charity founded and chaired by the former president of Nigeria – at the Africa Union Summit 2014 in Ethiopia.