Nomura's Shibata carrying the Lehman legacy
TOKYO (Reuters) - When shell-shocked Lehman Brothers employees gathered for a town hall meeting in Hong Kong last September, all eyes were on Takumi Shibata, the chatty, affable Nomura executive who orchestrated the rescue of Lehman's operations in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
"Yesterday, I held your destiny in my hands," Shibata told the crowd, according to a source who attended. "Today, my destiny is in your hands."
That's not how Shibata remembers it. The fit, 56-year-old deputy president and COO of Nomura Holdings (8604.T) says he spoke that day of being partners with Lehman.
Regardless of what was said, it's widely known that Shibata led the charge for the Lehman purchase and that the success or failure of the deal rests heavily on his shoulders.
The jury is still out on whether the transaction will lead to ultimate success.
The man behind that landmark transaction is well-traveled, with stints in London and Boston. He has an easy-going manner, likes wine, has a Harvard degree, and is a classical music and opera fanatic.
After Shibata and his colleagues saw a tough start to the Lehman purchase, the integration and Nomura's growth abroad has generated some recent bright spots.
Nomura has notched mandates outside of Japan to handle convertible bonds, equity issuance and mergers and acquisitions, thanks in large part to the Lehman relationship.
But Shibata knows that there is still a long way to go before Nomura believes it has reached full, international potential.
One of the main hurdles has been merging two very different banks: a conservative Japanese brokerage and a risk-taking New York brokerage.
"We are finding surprisingly little differences between Lehman in Asia and Europe, and Nomura in Asia and Europe," he said, standing in the Reuters offices in Tokyo on Wednesday. To put things in context, Shibata mentioned that Nomura was not alone when it comes to integrating different groups.
"The difference in culture between an investment bank and a commercial bank can be greater than two investment banks," he said, in a subtle nudge to the several large Western banks that are taking on more commercial functions.
In an hour-long interview at the Reuters Japan Investment Summit on Wednesday, Shibata smiled most of the time. He portrayed optimism, speaking around some of the harder queries into the Lehman deal. When asked questions in Japanese, he answered in English.
Before the interview began, he spoke of how he racked up a 20,000 pounds ($32,240) debt to his bank through the purchase of classical music tickets when he was in London. He paid it back.
Prior to his current role, he ran Nomura's European business from London and its investment banking and asset management group from Tokyo. In his 32 years with Nomura, he has spent 13 years in Tokyo, 12 years in London, three years in Hong Kong and two years each in Boston and Kobe.
Shibata is a non-executive director at publicly traded investment firm Fortress Investment Group (FIG.N). He earned a degree in economics from Keio University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
"He's an Anglophile," said a former Lehman banker who asked not to be named. "He described himself as a 'maverick' at the time of the deal. To be honest, a lot of us were really taken in by him at the time." The source said he still respects Shibata, despite the difficulties the company has faced since the Lehman deal.
Others interviewed had less kind things to say, with one legacy Nomura banker saying that Shibata doesn't listen well enough to his peers.
Hikari Imai, president and chief executive of Japanese merger and acquisition advisory firm Recof Corp, said he had confidence in Shibata, even though Nomura still faced a lot of challenges.
"He's a very aggressive guy and proactive. He's a nice guy. He's very smart. He's very committed to the project," Imai said. "I think he can make himself successful."
To Shibata, the way to tackle these challenges is simple.
"Don't look up. Don't look down. Look straight ahead."
(Additional reporting by Emi Emoto; Editing by Hugh Lawson)