Alex Woodthorpe '95
Merging finance and philanthropy in Asian markets
by Sara Langen
In 1986, Alex Woodthorpe was interviewing for a job with Schroder Investment Management, a London-based asset management firm, when he received a question that forever changed his life.
“Do you know what a zaibatsu is?” the interviewer asked.
“Actually, I do,” said Woodthorpe, correctly identifying it as a traditional Japanese trading company. It was a bit of trivial knowledge; Woodthorpe, then in his final year at college, had never traveled to Japan but was interested in working abroad.
“Great!” said the interviewer. “You can work on the Japanese desk.”
Three years later, Woodthorpe found himself en route to Asia. And for much of the next 22 years, that’s where he remained, making a name for himself at high-profile firms including Schroder, S.G. Warburg Securities and Merrill Lynch & Co. During his 14 years at Merrill Lynch, he raised more than $250 billion in equity and equity-linked capital and led some of the world’s largest equity deals. He also raised more than $3 billion for the National Bank of Australia (the country’s largest-ever placement) and served as lead adviser to the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (the world’s largest IPO) and Enel (Europe’s largest IPO).
These experiences, coupled with his education at the Kellogg School, prepared Woodthorpe for his most challenging role yet. Today, he serves as chairman and managing director of the Merton Group, an investment firm that owns clean-coal mining operation SKI Energy Resources Inc. (SERI) in the Philippines. As CEO of SERI, Woodthorpe oversees 12,000 hectares of land and says the company expects to produce one million tons of coal by 2015.
Both professionally and personally, Woodthorpe is ideally suited for this role. Not only is he skilled at acquiring capital, he’s also passionate about the Merton Group’s mission: improving conditions for residents in developing countries.
“Coal is the single, cheapest way to deliver power to emerging countries,” explains Woodthorpe, who has been an avid volunteer and philanthropist for years. “You hear people talking about fresh water and education, but fundamentally, you need power for all of these things.”
Woodthorpe’s career began in the financial industry, but his Kellogg education, he says, helped him develop the general management skills he needed to oversee SERI. He hopes to expand the company into a multi-asset, resource-based business in the next five years.
“In two years, SERI has grown from a company of four men with a strong belief in a good idea … to employing more than 1,000 people,” he says. “It’s been a steep learning curve, but that’s one of the things that has been most rewarding.”
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Kellogg World alumni magazine.