You know, the one thing that we have not done explicitly in this column in the few months of its existence is to acknowledge the sheer advantage we gain when we have Kenyans with their hands at the levers of global corporate decision making.
As Kenyans follow their ambitions and opportunities abroad, we have the unique benefit of having them, in many cases, looking out for opportunities that they can take advantage of back home.
Part of the benefit countries such as China and India have derived from having so many of their citizens as part of the floating global cohort of professionals is that they get first dibs on the good ideas, capital and connections that these citizens generate.
This is the advantage conferred upon Kenya by having someone like Deepak Dave holding the torch for Kenya in distant financial capitals.
Mr Dave has made all the stops on the financial decision-making totem-pole, from getting up early in the morning in order to join the hordes of junior bank workers on his summer internship, through stints in trading, to owning and running his own firm, to deploying a government’s billions in emerging markets.
There is a myth, made the more powerful by how true it is, that the way to true influence in Hollywood is to begin in the mail room (that, after all, is how many moguls made their starts).
If this holds true in finance as well, then Deepak Dave is well on his way to absolute power in the circles of global finance.
After all, he had his start in the mail sorting room at Barclays Bank in the early 1990s, as a summer intern at the newly-opened Barclays Plaza office.
The banking bug had truly gotten into his system, and after graduating from university in 1997, he joined Standard Chartered as an assistant manager at the Westlands branch.
As he worked to deal with recalcitrant customers (some people I know — who shall remain nameless — have been customers at the Westlands branch of Stanchart), he was sitting his exams, and when he passed, he qualified as a Credit Control Officer.
In 2000, he was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship, which enabled him to embark on his Master’s degree — naturally in finance.
Completion of his postgraduate studies saw him back to Barclays, albeit this time at Barclays Capital.
He was a manager in the Global Financial Risk Management team, “looking after a portfolio of global airlines, property and pharmaceutical companies. During this time I was involved in my first billion dollar deal, for the world’s largest airline,” he says.
Having a seat at the centre of activity in one of the world’s premier finance organisations was a good place to be in the middle of this decade.
It enabled Mr Dave to hone his skills, and position himself at the very core of earth-shaking events.
He rose, within three years, to become the manager in charge of the Commodity Derivatives Trading Risk Portfolio at Barclays Capital, overseeing a portfolio worth $4billion.
(Actually, let’s go off on a bit of a tangent here, and analyse each part of that job title. Commodity traders are the ones who literally move prices of global products — anything from oil to pork bellies and wheat. Remember that old insult about whether you can influence the price of beans in Kazakhstan? Well, commodity traders can, and do. Derivatives, despite their bad reputation garnered over the course of the global economic crisis, are quite useful inventions. Well-designed, they help hedge the risk inherent in any transaction. Badly designed, of course, they turn into what Warren Buffett called weapons of mass destruction. Trading is at the heart of how many banks nowadays make money — buying and selling anything from commodities to equities, bonds and currencies for fractions of cents on each trade, and acquiring billions while at it. Let’s agree then, by sheer analysis of Mr Dave’s title, that he was a big cheese).
Deepak’s African roots began to pay dividends when Barclays decided to explore emerging markets in Africa and the Middle East, and he was deployed to Johannesburg.
In 2004, he was appointed Head of Financial Institutions for Africa and the Middle East for Barclays International.
It meant that he spent a week out of each month in Kenya (the advantages we spoke of in the beginning are becoming evident).
During this stint, he says, “we conducted a number of innovative deals including the first leveraged buyout of an insurance firm, opened swap and money market lines for a number of second and third tier interbank players and engaged with the Government on deals involving bond issues for development.” He headed “an exceptional team of seven, working with Wanja Waiguru and Mburu Kiereini”. So far, so impressive, right?
Mr Dave had not turned 30 yet.
His last stop at Barclays (before it acquired ABSA Capital in South Africa and his expatriate contract ended) was as a Credit Director for Investment Banking.
When he left Barclays, he went back to the UK, with a stint at UBS Investment Bank (specialising in Africa), before he hung up his shingle with an outfit he set up called Riverside Capital in Canada.
He ran Riverside for two years, handling strategy management for Africa, including, he says “working with a Nigerian bank on developing a global growth strategy, a global Investment Bank to roll out its African Risk Management capability and a Canadian brokerage to develop a product sales channel.”
He also engaged in private equity work, including “portfolio analysis and valuation, targeting a number of banks within Kenya for investment and fund development in the debt fund area.”
Mr Dave now works for a Canadian government-backed financier, concentrating on emerging markets. He has worked on everything, he says, from “rail cars in America to salmon fishing in Latin America, telecoms in Japan to oil companies in West Africa.”
So what’s next for this ex-student of Arya Primary School and Oshwal High School?
One thing he acknowledges is that “if you are highly specialised in the banking business, at some point you will be drawn towards the world’s largest centre of finance, London.”
He continues: “I don’t believe there is sufficient appreciation for the incredible role Kenyan trained professionals in law, accounting and finance are playing around the world. Our country has few natural resources and we are not going to get rich off oil or minerals.
“Developing a highly skilled service sector is the only long term solution for our highly educated workforce, and the Government should move beyond tokenism at present and engage much more aggressively with our professionals in foreign countries.”
He ends on a self-effacingly powerful note: “Sometimes you are lucky enough to influence the policy of business and governments towards Kenya, given your visibility, and that is highly satisfying.”