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Deutsche Bank India M&A head gets ready
December, 18th 2009

For many, it is hard to digest someone kicking an offer to wine and dine at the Oberois and the Tajs in the financial capital and choose to 
sweat it out under 47 degree heat in the dusty coal capital of India, Dhanbad in Bihar.

Meet Amrit Singh, the head of mergers & acquisitions for Deutsche Bank in India, who has dirtied his hands and gained a few lessons on the way to learn the ropes of high finance in London.

Singh was a rank-holder in Chartered Accountancy which lakhs of Indians just aspire to clear, leave alone getting it with distinction. He did his articleship at SB Billimoria and ignored many job offers in his eagerness not to remain just another accountant scrutinizing lifeless numbers, when there was life elsewhere.

Singh, the 38-year old alumni of Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi, is heading a team of advisors for the German bank to lead Indian companies to buy and sell assets, although the business went out of fashion in the last year because of the credit crisis. Bad times dont last forever. Singh and his team are ready for the kill in the next round.

The recent financial crisis has been a period where banks and clients were constrained on capital, said Singh. Deutsche Bank was one of the few bulge-bracket banks which did not take any capital from the Government or raise money from shareholders.

This naturally constrained our balance sheet and our ability to continue increasing our capital commitments to clients. As the crisis diminishes, we are going back to increasing credit exposure to our client base again.

Singh does not count on just the balance sheet of the bank, but his experience with the corporate titans in London and the nuances of human behaviour, best captured in the moods of the shovel-carrying miner and the truck drivers he herded while helping his father establish a business in Dhanbad.

He not only set up the Dhanbad business before heading to the London Business School in 1997, but also helped some family friends in building a fabric business.

The streak of entrepreneurship in Singh and the acquired analytical skills in the classrooms, make him a formidable banker in Deutsche, which has an Indian born, Anshu Jain as number 2, who many are saying may well be the first Asian to lead it.

But Singh is not chasing all and sundry for deals in India. The bank focuses on 25 of the biggest industrial houses, biggest banks and government-owned entities. In some cases each of these clients also are a group which could consist of 7-10 companies.

If we start and try to be everything to everybody we risk over-extending our resources. This also creates constraints on idea-generation, says Mr 

One of its prize catch has been the Tatas who have spent billions of dollars in acquiring companies overseas including steel maker Corus Group and Jaguar Land Rover. Deutsche also had a role in the state-run Oil & Natural Gas buying Imperial Energy, and the Aditya Birla Groups partnership with Telekom Malaysia for Idea Cellular.

The early flow of deals such as the Corus probably convinced Deutsche that India may be a market worth having some top-notch bankers on the ground, instead of serving it with briefcase bankers from London, or Hong Kong.
The cross-border advisory business was largely done by offshore bankers.

For instance, the Tata Corus deal was primarily executed out of the London office, says Mr Singh who moved to India in March 2008.

Was it difficult to give up the glittering life in London? Not so for a man who has kicked some fancy life for excitement.

It is not just the opportunities to do deals, but also to give an experience of this diversified country to his children, instead of visits during vacation which may not provide the variety of the nation.

On Saturdays, he takes his four-year old daughter for ballet and then his son for cricket classes, which he couldnt do with such an ease in London.

Singh, like his counterpart in Standard Chartered, Prahlad Shantigram, may have been disappointed when Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel called-off plans to merge with South Africas MTN Group. In fact, more than Shantigram since he was instrumental in making it attractive enough for Mittal.

Yes, he was involved in MTNs acquisition of the Beirut-based Investcom for $5.5 billion, which helped the South African company expand in 11 more markets. Is deal-making as thrilling as the Dhanbad experience?
There was a sense of romance.

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