While volatility grips markets worldwide, Chris Ventresca and the global mergers and acquisitions team he co-heads at JPMorgan Chase & Co. have continued cranking out the big deals. In early February, China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) announced a $43 billion cash offer for Swiss seeds and pesticides group Syngenta. JPMorgan acted as lead adviser to Syngenta, whose acquisition would be the largest ever by a Chinese company.
Basel-based Syngenta had rebuffed three bids by U.S. rival Monsanto Co. in 2015, and JPMorgan played a major role in evaluating ChemChina’s approach, given its knowledge of the state-owned enterprise. Last year the bank was adviser and sole financier to ChemChina on its pending $7.7 billion takeover of Italian tire maker Pirelli.
Powered by American companies making purchases abroad, last year’s record M&A deal volume richly rewarded JPMorgan and other U.S. banks. “We take a global team approach, and the deal boom in 2015, which was dominated by big global cross-border takeovers, plays to that approach,” Ventresca says.
ChemChina’s plan to buy Syngenta was already well advanced before plummeting oil prices, the economic slowdown in China and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates sent markets into a tailspin and cooled the M&A hot streak, throwing some transactions into doubt.
“We may see deals that were close to a handshake being delayed as both buyers and sellers revisit valuations following the turmoil in the equity markets,” says Ventresca, 49. “But once things stabilize, M&A will continue to be a compelling solution for companies looking for growth.”
The Syngenta deal has helped JPMorgan steal an early march on the competition as it looks to boost its global ranking. Last year the bank took third place worldwide, advising on 338 transactions worth a collective $1.5 trillion, according to Dealogic. Although deal volume swelled, JPMorgan fell one spot from 2014, when it worked on 309 deals with a combined value of $772 billion.
The versatile Ventresca has advised on more than $1 trillion worth of transactions during his 27 years with the firm, including a variety of strategic acquisitions, mergers and sales, as well as many shareholder activism situations and defenses against hostile takeovers. His office in New York, where the Staten Island native has spent his entire career, is crammed with hundreds of so-called tombstones, trophies commemorating deal closings. But he took an unusual route to the top of JPMorgan’s global M&A business, a post he has shared since 2013 with Hernan Cristerna, a Spaniard based in London.
After earning a degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University in 1988, Ventresca joined the bank as a computer programmer with its global technology and operations training program. While using his coding skills to help M&A bankers value and analyze companies, he became fascinated with deals.
“My analytical background means that I’ve always liked solving problems, but I also became interested in combining that with the strategic advisory element,” Ventresca recalls. “I decided that M&A was something I wanted to do long-term.”
In 1995, having earned an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, Ventresca became an associate with the firm’s M&A group, where he cut his teeth by working on deals in the steel and auto sectors. He was named head of industrials in 2005, in addition to advising French beverage giant Pernod Ricard on the $2.4 billion sale of its Dunkin’ Brands restaurant division to U.S. private equity firms Bain Capital, Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners.
Ventresca, who rose to co-head of North American M&A in 2008, has led some of his firm’s most noteworthy deals. He advised United Airlines on its $3 billion merger with Continental Airlines in 2010, Verizon Communications on its $130 billion acquisition of European counterpart Vodafone’s 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless in 2013, and British cable and Internet provider Virgin Media on its $25.5 billion takeover by U.S.-based telecommunications conglomerate Liberty Global the same year.
Last year Ventresca helmed JPMorgan’s effort as sole adviser and financier to Dollar Tree Stores on its $8.5 billion acquisition of fellow U.S. discount retailer Family Dollar. “The opportunity with Family Dollar developed over several years and required great patience,” says Bob Sasser, CEO of Chesapeake, Virginia–based Dollar Tree. “When we were ready, Chris was on hand to use his relationships and expertise to get the deal done. Chris is a smart, savvy guy who has given us great advice down the years.”
Ventresca sees plenty more opportunity ahead. “We are currently coming off the back of a record year in which companies were highly motivated to do M&A,” he says. “It will be hard to match that level of activity in 2016 in terms of the sheer dollar size of deals, although the number of deals could rise.”