It’s been a rough few years for the economies of Southern Europe. For top investment bankers hailing from that region, not so bad.
Over the last five years, an Italian or Spaniard has been named head of mergers and acquisitions in London at five of the world’s biggest global banks. The latest promotions came in recent months when Goldman Sachs Group Inc. selected Italian banker Gilberto Pozzi as co-head of its worldwide M&A team, while Bank of America Corp. appointed Diego de Giorgi, also Italian, as co-head of global investment banking. Both are based in London.
Bankers from southern Europe have long migrated to London, the epicenter of dealmaking for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. But their monopoly on the highest positions today seems unprecedented, said Nell Montgomery, a partner at executive coaching firm The Preston Associates and former investment banker at Goldman Sachs. That they are faring so well is more than coincidence, she said, as banks want more managers who are just as comfortable building relationships with employees and clients as they are at negotiating deals.
“Rather than me, me and me, it’s more about we, and southern Europeans are good at that,” Montgomery said. “Big banks have noticed that they need more leaders who are competent both at doing deals and managing people.”
Ferdinand Mason, a partner at law firm Jones Day in London, recalls working with Italian investment bankers on an intense multi-billion-dollar global deal that required managing cultural differences between the buyer and seller -- neither of which was Italian.
Serious during negotiations, the Italian bankers loosened up during breaks and meals as they worked to establish a strong rapport with the other side, Mason said.
“The legendary Italian hospitality helps to make everyone feel included,” he said.
Most of the southern European bankers earned their business qualifications either in the U.S. or the U.K. from prestigious universities. And most joined the big global banks early in their careers. All are male.
“It’s an intellectual aspiration for bankers to move to London,” said Manuel Romera, a professor at IE Business School in Madrid. “It’s a golden place.”
Pozzi followed a typical path. He was born and raised near Milan, graduated from the city’s Bocconi University as a finance major and then moved to Philadelphia where he got a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He worked for Credit Commercial de France, now part of HSBC Holdings Plc, before joining Goldman Sachs -- the top ranked M&A adviser on European deals so far this year -- in 1995 as an associate in London.
He later became head of the firm’s M&A practice for EMEA before landing his most recent promotion, and counts consumer giant Unilever among his clients. Pozzi declined to comment.
De Giorgi, 45, also graduated from Bocconi University before getting his masters degree from the London School of Economics. He first worked for Wasserstein Perella before moving to Goldman Sachs, where he stayed for 18 years. He also declined to comment.
Citigroup Inc., the third-largest U.S. lender by market value, has a Spaniard, Manuel Falco, 50, as its head of corporate and investment banking for EMEA. Falco worked in London in the 1990s at SG Warburg & Co. before returning to his native Madrid for almost a decade. He came back to the U.K. capital in 2009 as Citi’s co-head of banking for the same region he now oversees.
“The appointment was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and my family, and we took little time in making the decision,” Falco said in an e-mailed response to questions.
It’s not just senior bankers. With few deals taking place in debt-ridden southern Europe, many young bankers are moving to London, frustrated by the lack of jobs, according to Massimiliano Marzo, an economics professor at the University of Bologna in Italy. Some will undoubtedly rise up the ranks, he said.
“Banking is all about relationships,” he said, “it’s not just numbers and models, and southern Europeans are usually good at that.”
Here are other top London M&A bosses from Spain, Italy and Greece:
Michele Colocci, 51, Italian.
A former JPMorgan banker, Colocci joined Morgan Stanley in 2004 in London and was named head of the firm’s European M&A group in 2010. He is now global co-head for health care and chairman of M&A in EMEA. His schooling was all in the U.S. -- a bachelor of economics from Williams College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Luigi Rizzo, 44, Italian.
Rizzo joined Bank of America in 2013 as head of M&A for EMEA after having worked at Goldman Sachs for 20 years, where the last five years he was a partner responsible for the bank’s advisory practice in EMEA. He graduated with a degree in commercial engineering from the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
Hernan Cristerna, 49, Spanish.
Cristerna joined JPMorgan in 1996 from asset manager Schroders Plc. He ran JPMorgan’s EMEA M&A business from 2008 until 2012 before being named to his current job as global co-head of M&A. He holds an MBA from Harvard and a B.A. from Claremont McKenna College.
Linos Lekkas, 41, Greek.
Lekkas worked at Credit Suisse Group AG and Bank of America Merrill Lynch before joining Citigroup in 2011. He’s head of corporate and investment banking for Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. His degrees are from the University of London and Cambridge University.