Leopard Capital’s Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer Scott Lewis is moving to Switzerland next month to take up a job with Oryx Petroleum as head of corporate finance.
Lewis, himself an investor in Leopard’s fund, said it was a natural exit point now that a considerable amount of the fund’s capital had been deployed.
“This is a sort of natural exit point,” Lewis said. “We are moving into a different phase of the fund that requires different skills and fewer bodies than before, so it seemed that now is the time to exit.”
Lewis will remain on Leopard-related boards of directors while he is in Switzerland. He said his background being in finance and energy, he was returning to the sort of work he had done in the past.
“I’m an investor in the Leopard fund myself and have a vested interest in the success, so I will be available to help in any way I can. I’m sad to leave Cambodia, but economic realities require me to go elsewhere at the moment.”
Lewis went to work for Leopard Capital in December 2008 when the fund had only accomplished a single transaction of $500,000.
Joining Lewis in an interview last night was Gordian Gaeta, a member of Leopard’s investment committee who has been a decisive influence in Leopard’s decision making in dealing with Nautisco Seafood and Kingdom Breweries.
“In Kingdom we are the majority shareholder. We started it. It is our company. We took the view that the way it was managed was not the way we felt was the right way and so after some deliberations we took decisions that any owner would take that started the company. We are entitled to choose who are the leaders of the company,” Gaeta said.
Kingdom Breweries’ former CEO Peter Brongers, who now works for The Royal Group, left Kingdom following decisions taken by Gaeta and others at Leopard Capital.
With regard to Nautisco Seafood, Gaeta said Leopard Capital invested in the company as a minority shareholder and the executives of the company were exclusively appointed by the other shareholder.
“We did not terminate our executives at Nautisco. The company accumulated losses that exceeded the appetite of the only shareholder who had money to continue the operations. We said we could not continue funding losses, which led to the ultimate closure of the production. You can’t ask a shareholder to continue funding losses when you don’t have a business concept or plan that looks like you want to put your money behind it.”
Gaeta said the current status of Nautisco was a phased stand-down “where everybody stops pointing fingers. We have agreed to separate our relationship on amicable terms and we are in the process of executing this agreement. Our shareholder applied for insolvency, the appeal court lifted the insolvency.
“We will own the entire facility and we will separate with respect to this facility, our relationship in an amicable way.”
Gaeta said there had been mistakes made and with hindsight things would have been done differently.
“There is nothing we have to hide and we made rational and intelligent investment decisions to the benefit of our investors. Everybody makes mistakes, and with hindsight, I’m sure there are some things we would have done differently. If you look at the statistics across the industry, you have a 27 per cent chance on every investment of a partial or total loss,” he said.
Gaeta said Leopard Capital’s nine other investments in Cambodia were doing well.
“One out of 10 is a good batting average,” he said.
Gaeta graduated from the University of Vienna, specialising in constitutional law. His latest book is called Investing in Emerging Markets.
“The only way I know to provide for individuals, families, communities and countries is to create profitable companies. What private equity investors do is contribute to the stock of companies that are fledgling, start-up or developing and they provide the necessary blood flow for these companies to become successful and provide for people, families and communities.
“I think Cambodia has great advantages. One is it is sufficient size and it has sufficient people and it has sufficient variety of natural resources that it could become a country of some significance, not by Goldman Sachs standards, but by normal standards.
“I personally believe that a country that has been through hard times and that is ambitious to recover with a very strong and noble culture stands a very good chance of recovering and that’s exactly why Myanmar is having a boom. The pent-up potential is strong. You simply work harder when you come out of a stress situation and Cambodia has that.”
Gaeta said the export market is “probably not the right strategy” for Cambodia because of the requirement for efficiency and confidence compared to China, Vietnam and Thailand.
“There is a gap to be filled and the rest of the world is not sleeping. There is some way to go. Cambodia needs to define a position that allows it to develop its people and occupy a niche or a unique position in the region that builds on itself. Creating a nucleus that drives rapid economic development. That is the challenge for Cambodia,” he said. “One thing this country needs is good reliable civil service and judicial system. Everybody needs that. Capital follows, education follows, and everything follows.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]