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The new job's commanding title, co-head of global sponsors, camouflaged its lack of clout. At Deutsche, Epley had led a 100-member team with a complement of 20 managing directors and had personally helped orchestrate two of the biggest deals of the boom times: the $11.7 billion take-private of SunGard Data Systems Inc. in 2005 and the $12.7 billion buyout of VNU NV, owner of Nielsen Media Research, in 2006.
Nomura, by contrast, was a virtual cipher in U.S. investment banking and buyout circles, though it lorded over M&A advisory at home and had captured market share in Europe via its 2008 purchase of the failed Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s European operations. It aimed to grab a foothold in the U.S. and ramp up quickly.
Through a headhunter, it recruited Epley to direct the effort from New York. "Nomura said, 'Let us know what you need, and go make it happen,' " he says.
In Epley's 23 months on the job, Nomura hasn't stormed to the top of the league tables, nor has it led any high-profile auctions or underwriting syndicates. But Epley and his eight-member team have become real players. (A further 12 professionals work in London under the other co-global head of sponsors, Saba Nazar.) Most recently, Nomura was picked with several other banks to arrange a $5.5 billion debt package supporting a $7.2 billion buyout of EP Energy Corp. by Apollo Global Management LLC and others. In March, Nomura and Fifth Third Bank were joint lead debt arrangers for a debt facility backing Goldman Sachs Capital Partners' $400 million buyout of Associated Asphalt Partners LLC.
In December, it was one of four banks that helped finance American Securities LLC's $1 billion purchase of Global Tel*Link Corp. The same month, Nomura was a note bookrunner for Apollo's $1.6 billion buyout of chemicals company Taminco NV. All told, since Epley's arrival, the bank has had a hand in at least 18 transactions involving U.S. private equity firms, typically as a buy-side adviser and financing source. A year ago he was awarded a second title, co-head of corporate finance for the Americas.
Epley, a 46-year-old with angular features and a runner's physique (he competes in triathlons once or twice a year), cut his teeth as a sponsors banker at Morgan Stanley, which he joined out of Columbia Business School in 1993. He moved to Deutsche in 2001, rising to head of U.S. sponsor coverage in 2003 and global head in 2007.
His PE industry connections rival those of any banker. But while Epley can always win meetings with buyout titans, his connections only go so far.
"Realistically, we're not as big as some of the other banks. We're not going to compete in every realm," he says. "So we want our clients to think of us in ways that they'll call on us, not just view us as another vendor."
To gain an edge, Epley and his crew bring a dash of creativity to their work: "We seek ways where we can add value. For example, is there a cross-border angle to a deal where we can help interest an Asian buyer? Is there an equity capital markets solution where we have something nobody else has?"
Two instances he cites: Nomura "worked hard behind the scenes" to help Apollo line up equity co-investors in Asia for the EP Energy deal. In Taminco, a Dutch target that Apollo acquired at a time when the European credit markets had gone wobbly, "we pitched Apollo" on the idea of syndicating the debt in the U.S. rather than in Europe. That's what Apollo ultimately did.
The next leap forward for Nomura will be to actually take the lead on deals and financings. That day will arrive eventually, but not just yet. "We're building into that role. We have the distribution capabilities, and we have the capital markets prowess," Epley says. "But we want to be very comfortable with our track record before we do that."