Sophie Javary commands great respect in the French investment banking industry and beyond: In 2013 she was named a knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, her country’s highest accolade. Head of corporate finance for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at BNP Paribas, Javary received the award for playing a leading role in France’s privatization program of the 1980s and ’90s and the development of its equity capital markets.
The veteran banker joined BNP in 2011, when the firm recruited the veteran banker to spearhead a turnaround of its European corporate finance fortunes. “Our ambition is to be among the top ten players in equity capital markets and mergers and acquisitions advisory in Europe,” says Javary, who assumed her current post in 2014 and has always worked in her native Paris despite having been employed by a succession of foreign banks. “This year to date we are eighth in terms of ECM issuance, so we are on the right track.”
That’s an improvement over 2014, when the bank finished 12th for European ECM, according to Dealogic, working on 51 deals worth a total of $5.9 billion. Last year BNP also placed 12th in European M&A after advising on 87 transactions valued at a collective $148 billion, a 25 percent increase from $118 billion in 2013.
Competition from bigger rivals is fiercer than ever. During the first six months of 2015, U.S. banks grabbed more than half of the available European fee pool in advisory and underwriting for the first time. Javary relishes the challenge, though. “BNP Paribas is among the most profitable banks in the euro zone,” she says. “Our corporate finance function is fully integrated into the rest of the bank, and few European peers have the scale or global reach that we do.”
Javary is using her capital markets expertise to pull BNP up the ECM rankings, primarily by relaunching its block trade business, whereby banks take on risk for clients by underwriting shares. In March it carried out a €394 million ($430 million) accelerated bookbuild — a stock offering executed swiftly and with little or no marketing — for French retail group Carrefour.
“I joined because it was a big challenge to transform and upgrade BNP Paribas’s banking platform,” Javary says of her firm, which is a big lender to French companies. In late 2012 she pitched longtime client Électricité de France on issuing hybrid bonds, perpetual subordinated bonds that can be treated as equity for ratings and regulatory purposes. “My colleagues in syndicate didn’t think we stood a chance so didn’t go to the meeting,” Javary recalls. The following January the French bank became global coordinator of Paris-based EDF’s €4 billion offering, the largest deal ever of its kind.
“Sophie is one of the most complete senior bankers; [she] is very good at advising clients on strategic issues,” says Alain Papiasse, deputy COO of BNP. “That, combined with her capacity to mobilize people across the organization, made her a natural choice to run corporate finance in EMEA.”
Javary, who’s a board member of EuropaNova, a Paris think tank that promotes the European Union, got into banking almost by accident. In 1980, while earning a degree in business administration at France’s top business school, École des hautes études commerciales de Paris (HEC Paris), she attended an exchange program at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where most of the other students she met were planning careers in finance. “When I came back to Paris, I finished my studies at the time the big U.S. banks offered the best training programs,” she says.
In 1981, Javary started at Bank of America in her home city as a credit analyst, switching to equity capital markets and staying for six years before joining France’s Banque Indosuez (now part of Crédit Agricole) as an assistant vice president in its new ECM department. “This was at the beginning of France’s privatization program,” she says. “There was a need in France to find investors to subscribe to large equity deals, so we developed that expertise.”
Moving to Rothschild & Cie. as a director in 1994, Javary helped set up an ECM joint venture with Dutch bank ABN AMRO. “We were 15 people in Paris and two owners,” she says. “That’s where I learned the importance of working as a team.”
Over the next decade this tight-knit group helped to lead the privatization of state-owned French companies, working on the sell-offs of EDF (at €7 billion, the biggest such transaction in the nation’s history), carmaker Groupe Renault and Air France. In 2002, the same year she was promoted to partner at Rothschild, Javary headed the team advising France Télécom on its €15 billion recapitalization.
When a consortium led by Royal Bank of Scotland acquired ABN AMRO in 2007, Rothschild disbanded its ECM venture and picked Javary to run a new restructuring advisory practice. “I had experience working with buyout firms, and it was a unique time, with the LBO bubble bursting,” she remembers.
In 2011, BNP hired Javary as managing director in charge of relationships with some of its most senior clients. Two years later she advised French cosmetics giant L’Oréal on its $843 million purchase of China’s Magic Holdings International, still the largest public takeover of a Hong Kong–listed company by a foreign buyer. In 2014, BNP rode the new wave of French M&A activity, representing media conglomerate Vivendi on the €17 billion sale of its SFR mobile phone unit to cable provider Numericable Group, and L’Oréal on the €6 billion buyback of 8 percent of its shares from Swiss conglomerate Nestlé.
Javary, who is used to seeing her name atop the lists of Europe’s most influential female financiers, also sits on the board of Voxfemina, a Paris-based group that promotes women in the media. “Women don’t have many role models in business and banking, so it’s important to have this kind of recognition,” she says. •