Michel Antakly craves routine as an antidote to the hurly-burly of deal making. Every Saturday the senior managing director of Morgan Stanley’s M&A division plays tennis with his coach for two hours. Antakly devotes Sundays to his wife and two daughters at their family home in London, where he’s lived for virtually his entire 24-year career at Morgan Stanley.

During that time the soft-spoken banker, who holds French and Lebanese citizenship, has worked on many of Europe’s top M&A deals. But Antakly, 47, has never chased big management jobs or flashy titles. “I like being close to my clients, earning their trust and helping to guide them through the complex strategic and tactical issues surrounding M&A and corporate finance transactions,” he says. “I like the relationship-building aspect as much as the deal-making aspect.”

Morgan Stanley entrusts Antakly with some of its biggest clients. They include commodities trading giant Glencore International, which turned to him when it wanted to acquire miner and Swiss neighbor Xstrata. Antakly was involved in every step of the $45.8 billion merger, last year’s largest. In 2012, Morgan Stanley climbed to third in M&A deal volume in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, advising on 142 transactions worth a total of $262 billion, according to Dealogic. That was a 64 percent surge from the previous year’s $160 billion, which was good for fifth place.

Antakly’s relationship with Baar-based Glencore began in 2007, when John Mack, then Morgan Stanley’s chairman, introduced the trading firm’s deal-hungry CEO, Ivan Glasenberg, to his investment banking team. In 2009, Antakly headed the Morgan Stanley group that served as joint global coordinator of Glencore’s $2.2 billion convertible bond issue; this led to the same role in the company’s 2011 initial public offering. The $10 billion IPO gave Glencore the equity currency for striking a deal with Zug-based Xstrata, of which it was already the largest shareholder.

Life wasn’t always so stable for Antakly. Born in Beirut, he was sent to France to study after the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, and he moved to Paris without his parents in 1981. In those tumultuous years he excelled at chess; at age 16 he beat France’s reigning champion, who was playing a dozen games simultaneously.

In 1989, after earning an economics degree from Hautes études commerciales de Paris, an elite French business school known for producing top-level bureaucrats, Antakly joined Morgan Stanley’s London office as an associate. Before heading to California to pursue an MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he was part of the team that advised Sweden’s Investor, the Wallenberg family investment vehicle, on its 1991 buyout of automaker Saab-Scania. (Antakly is still an adviser to the Wallenbergs; in 2007 he helped Scania fend off a $13.7 billion bid by a rival truck manufacturer, Germany’s Man.)

In 1993, Antakly returned to Morgan Stanley, where he spent two years in the fixed-income derivatives department. But later in the decade, he found himself at the center of   Europe’s M&A explosion. His mandates included representing Dutch bank Fortis on its $11.1 billion acquisition of Belgium’s Generale Bank in 1998 and Canada’s Alcan on its $7.1 billion hostile takeover of French aluminum producer Pechiney in 2003. Three years later he was part of the team that staunchly defended Luxembourg steelmaker Arcelor against an ultimately successful $33.1 billion hostile bid by Rotterdam, Netherlands–based Mittal Steel Co., which was forced to double its offer.

In today’s sluggish European M&A market, Antakly and Morgan Stanley have weathered the downturn with help from Glencore-Xstrata, a merger that still needs Chinese regulatory approval. “I spend as much time advising clients not to do deals as I do helping them do the right deals or pitching them ideas,” Antakly says. “I expect market volumes to remain depressed for the next three years, at least in Europe, so staying close to clients and being a loyal adviser will be more important than ever.” • •