The Writers: Lawrence White
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The Writers: Lawrence White

Deep dives: from record-breaking IPOs to architectural water features – September 2010.

By Lawrence White

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It remains a great strength and tradition of Euromoney to give young journalists their chance by sending them on overseas assignments, on the principle they will learn much quicker than sitting in a London office.

I joined Euromoney in 2006 as a graduate reporting on emerging markets and within months, after some training on feature and news writing, was travelling to Brazil and Argentina to report on the financing plans of their biggest companies.

Back then of course the banking industry was in growth mode and Euromoney was expanding to match it. Having spent a year as an English teacher in Nagasaki, I stuck my hand up when the magazine decided to revive the role of Japan correspondent and my partner Laura and I arrived in Tokyo in the auspicious month of September 2007.

A year later I was in a minibus returning from a cricket match near the base of Mount Fuji when a player on our team who worked for Lehman Brothers looked up from his Blackberry with a shocked expression.

Tokyo was an interesting base to report on what unfolded over the next two years – particularly the story of MUFG’s bailout of Morgan Stanley and Nomura’s dramatic intervention to buy the Asia operations of Lehman.

The latter was a good story with a strong central character in Lehman’s Asia chief executive, Jesse Bhattal, who became something of a hero internally for securing the Nomura deal at the 11th hour.

It didn’t work out in the end of course, as most of the expensively retained senior Lehmanites showed their gratitude to Nomura by walking away as soon as their lockups expired.

Being still relatively new to finance and to journalism, I didn’t fully grasp the enormity of what was happening to the banking industry during those years, or the reasons for the crisis. 

It was a stressful but rewarding introduction to the job, I tried to report on how Japan’s banks and markets were coping with the crisis and not worry too much about whether we would all have jobs at the end of it.

In 2009, I took over as Asia editor and moved to Hong Kong, a gateway to the China story that would come to dominate Asia banking over the next few years and a better hub for the extensive travel that the job required.

I think I ticked off every known mishap of the Euromoney business trip over the years and contributed a couple of innovations of my own, including blundering into a water feature outside the HQ of Bank Itaú in São Paulo minutes before I was due to interview its chief executive. I had been looking at my Blackberry frantically trying to work out which tower I was meant to be in and didn’t see the pool that was flush with the pavement.

Those moments stick most in the memory – getting thrown out of an interview with the Mongolian president for asking too many questions, or being left for hours in a waiting room with an antique rifle for company at the president’s palace in Manila.

By then, Laura was working at Euromoney conferences and I can remember sharing a drink with her on the balcony of the Japanese ambassador’s house in Ulaan Baatar and thinking: “Well, at least our jobs aren’t boring.”

Back in Hong Kong, the main story was western banks’ sometimes cringe-worthy efforts to win mandates on the wave of mega-deals that ensued as China began to privatize in earnest.

The story I remember most was a deep dive behind the scenes of the float of Agricultural Bank of China in 2010, at the time the world’s biggest-ever IPO.

I spent weeks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing reporting on the tense pitching process. AgBank sent the final request for proposals late in the afternoon on Good Friday, presumably just to see which bankers would show their loyalty to Beijing by ditching their families’ Easter holidays.

I’ll not forget a memorably grim dinner in a glitzy Hong Kong mall restaurant on the day the mandates were announced with one of the banks that had been expected to make the deal but didn’t. The evening was enlivened by probably the least welcome belly dancer in history and some choice black humour from the jilted dealmakers.

AgBank itself kept me waiting over whether or not we would get an on-the-record interview. I had to dash to Beijing on a Sunday night, with just a couple of hours’ notice, to interview the architect of the deal, Pan Gongsheng, who naturally insisted on speaking through a translator despite his excellent English.

I was lucky enough to learn my trade under the current editor, Clive Horwood, who remains a friend to this day, as well as emerging markets guru Sudip Roy and bond maestro and DJ Alex Chambers, whom I followed to Thomson Reuters.

I’m not sure anywhere else has nurtured so many financial journalists, which of course may be a blessing or a curse to the world depending on your perspective. I will always be grateful for the opportunity, the friends and the memories.

Lawrence White joined Euromoney in 2006, moved to Tokyo in 2007 and was Asia editor from 2009 to 2012. He is now UK banking correspondent for Thomson Reuters, based in London.

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