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Making hay in China: rain or shine

Success in investment banking has always depended on relationships and connections, as well as expertise.

The days of the China rainmaker, that dwindling band of politically connected princelings that could land a lucrative mainland IPO mandate for any foreign bank with just a phone call, are dead. Or so many of today’s bulge-bracket banks would have us believe.

There is as much rumour, supposition and innuendo surrounding these individuals as there is fact. Spawned by a combination of envy, politics and plain ignorance, the term rainmaker is probably outmoded but the role is no less relevant today than it was when China’s corporate finance market first opened up to international investment banks. The role has simply evolved and the rainmakers have changed with it.

To hold down a senior job in any bulge-bracket firm today requires more than just a politically star-studded Rolodex. The fact is that China’s banking market is moving on and investment banks must learn to change with it.

Chastened by the likes of Messrs Spitzer, Sarbanes and Oxley, today’s investment banks blench at the inference that they are interested in hiring politically connected bankers – as if that were in some way wrong. How so? Leveraging political connections is not unique to China: private equity powerhouse Carlyle has built a successful global business on precisely this skill.

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