Manolo Falco never planned on becoming a banker. After earning a degree in management and business administration from CEU San Pablo University in his native Madrid, he wanted to work for his father, a noted winemaker, but his mother pleaded with him to try something outside the family business. “I realized I really enjoyed banking, and I’ve been able to help my dad more in banking than perhaps I could have if I’d worked with him,” says Falco, 50, who is now Citigroup’s London-based head of corporate and investment banking for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Although Falco plays a management role, his corporate relationships keep him in the thick of the deal action. Those ties paid off handsomely with French media conglomerate Vivendi. Falco knew former Vivendi chairman Jean-René Fourtou; after a series of meetings, the company hired him in 2013 to handle the spin-off of SFR, its mobile phone subsidiary. Last year Luxembourg-listed Altice fought off French rival Bouygues and purchased SFR for €17 billion ($18.5 billion). Citi ranked sixth in EMEA mergers and acquisitions in 2014, advising on 111 deals worth a collective $283 billion, according to Dealogic, up from 10th the previous year, when it worked on 105 transactions with a combined value of $121 billion.
Norsk Hydro, an Oslo-based aluminum and renewable energy producer, hired Citi to represent it on the $4.9 billion purchase of the aluminum assets of Brazilian metals and mining group Vale in 2010. “Manolo showed a great understanding of the industry and gave good, balanced advice,” says Norsk president and CEO Svein Richard Brandtzæg.
Falco began his career in the Madrid office of U.K. investment bank S.G. Warburg & Co. as an analyst in the M&A department. After moving to London in 1991 for three years, he returned to Madrid, where in 1998 he joined another British investment bank, J. Henry Schroder Wragg & Co., as a director. When Citi bought Schroder in 2000, renaming it Schroder Salomon Smith Barney, Falco saw potential to build its small Spanish arm by working with his new colleagues in Citi’s corporate bank, which lent to many of the country’s multinationals. “There wasn’t much cooperation between the two sides of the bank, and the corporate bankers had access to the senior management of Spain’s biggest companies, so I started coming along to meetings and piggybacked on what they were doing and grew the investment banking business,” he recalls.
He turned the Schroder division, which was rebranded under the Citi name in 2003, into Spain’s top investment bank. His first big move: beating several rivals to get Citi appointed joint global coordinator on the 2001 initial public offering of Industria de Diseño Textil, owner of Spanish fashion retailer Zara. The €2.4 billion flotation, which valued Inditex at $8.2 billion, was the largest retail IPO to date. Today the company is the world’s top fashion retailer, with a market cap of $95.3 billion. Promoted to co-head of Citi’s Spanish operations in 2002, Falco had a hand in several of the nation’s biggest M&A deals, advising construction giant Grupo Ferrovial on its £10.3 billion ($18.6 billion) takeover of U.K. airports operator BAA in 2006.
“We turned it from a $20 million to a $300 million revenue business,” he says. “We built it like a partnership, working cooperatively with good people to present good ideas to clients.”
Citi looked to Falco to replicate this success across its European investment banking division, which in 2008 merged with the corporate bank. In 2009 he was appointed co-head of corporate and investment banking for EMEA, becoming sole head last March after a four-year turnaround that restored the division to profitability and established it as Europe’s No. 4 corporate finance house by revenue.
Although Falco unwinds by going heli-skiing — off-piste skiing accessed by a helicopter — in Canada and Europe, deal making gives him a bigger adrenaline surge, he says. “I’m a client guy who has become decent at management, but working with clients is my first love,” says the father of three.
Falco now aims to elevate Citi’s corporate and investment banking unit to Europe’s top three. That means he has no plans to join the family firm: “My sister does an excellent job running the wine business, and I’m passionate about what I do at Citi and the project we still have here.”