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Investing off the beaten track

From unlikely roots, US private-equity investor Lombard has deftly re-invented itself to emerge as a leading local value investor in Asia. It has some way to go before it has truly regional scope but an unconventional approach to investing has yielded impressive results to date.

Sullivan (top) and Smith (bottom): CalPERS first
prompted the directors of Lombard to seek value
investments in Asia where it now benefits from
managing money of powerful locals

FEW PRIVATE-EQUITY funds operating in Asia have stranger origins than Lombard Investments. Originally based in San Francisco, it started life in the mid-1980s investing in local US radio stations aimed at ethnic minorities. Just how it found itself in Asia buying stakes in golf club makers in Taiwan and shrimp processors in Thailand is an interesting tale in itself. "We started as a US pension fund investing in the US with US investors," says Peter Sullivan, Lombard's chairman and managing director. "We made a number of investments in radio stations with CalPERS [California Public Employees' Retirement System]."

CalPERS, one of the world's largest investment institutions, proved to be the key to Lombard packing its bags and heading east. "They wanted to look at some opportunities in Asia, and they asked us to help out," says Sullivan. "We started out investing in a fund managed by CDIB [China Development Industrial Bank, a Taiwanese bank].

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