14/07/2020 - 10:00

New partner for veteran dealmaker

14/07/2020 - 10:00

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Corporate adviser John Poynton is back looking for deals after setting up a new firm with investment banker Chris Stavrianou.

New partner for veteran dealmaker
John Poynton and Chris Stavrianou are promoting their firm as truly independent. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The genesis of John Poynton’s newest business venture occurred last year when he sat down for a chat with Chris Stavrianou.

“He came to me and said he thought there was a gap in the investment banking market in Perth,” Mr Poynton recalled.

The 39-year old Mr Stavrianou had spent most of his working life with Macquarie Capital in London and UBS in Sydney and was looking for a new opportunity in his hometown.

The idea of teaming up with a young investment banker prepared to back himself in an independent new venture enthused Mr Poynton, who shows no sign of slowing down as he approaches 70 years of age.

“You need to have a personality for it,” he said.

“It is riskier in a career sense but that’s what I really like, backing and being partners with younger people who are prepared to back themselves.”

Poynton Stavrianou, owned 50-50 by the two founders, is following a similar formula to other firms Mr Poynton has run or established.

“If you look at what we did at Hartley Poynton originally, developing corporate advisory, then into Poynton Partners and GEM and then into Azure Capital, there is some consistency,” he said.

“What we try to do is provide global standard advice and expertise in Western Australia.”

He likens the business partnership with Mr Stavrianou to his earlier work with the likes of Mark Barnaba and the late Geoff Rasmussen.

“They all chose to work for a smaller, more entrepreneurial firm rather than being swallowed into a global bank.”

Mr Poynton argues the global investment banks have left an opening, either by withdrawing from Perth (such as Lazard) or not properly servicing WA clients.

“Traditionally, the large banks have tended to pitch the A team and deliver the B or C team,” he said.

“That led to an opportunity for Azure back in the day, just as Poynton Partners and GEM could compete against McKinsey because it had McKinsey people in it.”

Mr Poynton, who left Azure in 2016, argues the firm can no longer claim to be independent after selling a majority stake to French bank Natixis.

“We think there is a role for true independents,” Mr Poynton said.

It’s a claim disputed by Azure, which consistently ranks as one of Perth’s top corporate advisory firms and insists its independence is intact.

Technical expertise

Mr Stavrianou has brought an unusual mix of public sector and private sector experience to his new role.

He spent five years with Macquarie Capital in London, traversing the world looking for infrastructure investment opportunities.

He quit in 2010 to join UBS in Sydney, where he had a broader role advising on infrastructure, utilities and industrials.

The two investment banks had very different approaches, with Macquarie being analytical, data driven and focused on debt finance whereas UBS focused on high-level strategic advice and equity markets.

“Between the two, I think I got a breadth of coverage of products and advice types,” he said.

Mr Stavrianou next went to Harvard, where his studies focused on how business and government could better interact.

On his return to Australia, he met with the then secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury, John Fraser, who had taken that role in 2015 after retiring as chairman of UBS Global Asset Management.

“John had this idea, similar to mine, that government and business should communicate better,” Mr Stavrianou said.

He joined the Treasury soon after, initially in Sydney as an adviser to the Foreign Investment Review Board, before establishing its Perth office in 2017.

“I never saw myself as a career public servant; it was with an expectation I would make a contribution and come back to the private sector and do what I love, which is deal making,” he said.

Mr Stavrianou said his time in Treasury helped in two ways.

“It gives you a terrific understanding of government policy and regulators and how to engage and interact with them to support our M&A advice,” he said.

The job also enabled him to brush up on his knowledge of WA, as he hosted business forums and travelled to every region and every town with 5,000 people or greater.

“It was the perfect way to re-establish an understanding of what makes Western Australia tick,” he said.

Chairman of the board

Mr Poynton will combine his role at the new firm with a busy suite of boardroom roles.

This includes being a director of the Australian government’s Future Fund.

“That’s been fantastic and I’ve got another three to four years there,” Mr Poynton said.

He is chairman of Crown Perth, which he said was about a $2 billion business, and is a director of ASX-listed Crown Resorts.

He chairs Strike Energy, which had a big gas discovery last year in the onshore Perth Basin.

“We see ourselves as a significant supplier of energy,” he said.

Among other board roles, he is also deputy chair of cyber security company Sapien Cyber, a spin-out from Edith Cowan University.

Mr Poynton said the board roles helped with the advisory work.

“Part of the experience is sitting on the other side being pitched by an investment bank, it gives you a lot of perspective,” he said.

“We’ve already done some work for a couple of our clients, advising on pitches and approaches by much bigger banks.”

Mr Stavrianou said the new firm was working with clients across the defence, manufacturing, healthcare, oil and gas and mining sectors.

“We are going to be very broad and industry agnostic,” he said.

Its largest transaction was advising Resolute on the $100 million sale of its Ravenswood mine early this year.

Mr Poynton and strategic adviser Nick Power did most of the work on that deal, with Mr Stavrianou coming in near the end.

The two partners say they want their firm to make a broad contribution to WA.

“One of our values is the contribution we make to Western Australia and the community more broadly,” Mr Stavrianou said.

“It’s not just about being the adviser of choice to the biggest companies.

“This would include philanthropic support as well as investing in our people, to ensure the best advisers are in WA.”

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