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Lazard’s Charlie Foreman Rides Europe’s IPO Boom

The London-based head of equity capital markets advisory has capitalized on companies’ desire for advice independent of the banks underwriting their public offerings.

Charlie Foreman is used to surviving on a few hours’ sleep. On the night of March 12, Lazard’s London-based head of equity capital markets advisory was up until 4 a.m. helping Danish outsourcing giant ISS prepare for its initial public offering the next morning. The $1.5 billion IPO struck gold: ISS stock jumped almost 13 percent on the first day, to 180 Danish kroner ($33.50).

It was another win for Foreman, 51, who’s turned his firm into a market leader in a growing field since resigning as head of U.K. corporate broking and ECM at Deutsche Bank in 2009 to lead Lazard’s European equity advisory business. Equity advisers have come into their own since 2009, when investors and companies condemned underwriters’ high fees amid a slew of capital raisings in the wake of the financial crisis. Lazard has filled a gap created by a perceived conflict of interest at underwriting banks, which coordinate deals for corporations and sell them to institutional clients.

A 30-year veteran of the City of London, Foreman ensures that the banks underwriting capital raisings or taking a company public provide the best service to the business concerned. “For a CEO or CFO, an IPO is perhaps the toughest thing they will go through in their careers, so it’s important to have someone independent whose job it is to look after their best interests,” he says.

Foreman has turned Lazard into a go-to adviser in Europe’s IPO boom, which saw 166 companies with a combined value of $35.7 billion go public last year, according to Dealogic, versus 127 companies worth a total of $13.9 billion in 2012. As of late March the firm had represented 12 of the 25 European IPOs since the beginning of 2013 that have used an independent adviser. Last year Foreman counseled the U.K. government on the £3.2 billion ($5.1 billion) sale of part of its stake in Lloyds Banking Group in September, then a month later on the £3.3 billion IPO of the Royal Mail, Britain’s biggest privatization in two decades. The latter, which saw the government unload a 60 percent position in the postal service, drew on Foreman’s substantial reserves of diplomacy and straight talk, a rare combination.

The 48 percent rise in Royal Mail stock from an issue price of 330 pence on October 15, its first full day of trading, led to accusations that the IPO was underpriced, prompting a review by a parliamentary committee, which is expected to deliver its findings in the next month. Foreman, who regards the transaction as one of his most memorable, helped pull it off in a tough environment: The postal workers threatened a strike action that was later postponed, and the U.S. government shutdown triggered volatility in global markets. “There was a very narrow window in which to do the deal,” he recalls.

The son of an agricultural merchant from the southeastern English village of Headcorn, Foreman attended boarding school, which he says gave him independence of mind because he left home so early. He turned down the chance to join the family firm in favor of a career in finance after earning a degree in economics, history and anthropology from Durham University in 1983. But his first love was rugby, which he played at college before spending a summer working in South Africa, where he represented Transvaal at the under-21 level.

Foreman started out at Lombard Odier Asset Management in London as an analyst and joined merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co. in 1984 to become an equity salesman. Five years later he moved to Morgan Stanley as a vice president in equity sales; in 1991 he defected to BZW, Barclays’s former investment banking division, running its Singapore equity sales desk and heading its Asian equity syndicate in Hong Kong. Switching to equity advisory, Foreman returned to London in 1997 and began working with clients such as Jonathan Symonds, then CFO of London-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, who later held the same post at its Swiss rival Novartis. “Charlie is incredibly loyal to his clients,” Symonds says.

Credit Suisse First Boston’s acquisition of BZW in 1997 prompted Foreman to give the corporate world a try. He went to work with John Mayo, a longtime client who was CFO of U.K. electronics company Marconi, becoming part of the strategy team and heading investor relations. But after Mayo led Marconi on a disastrous acquisition spree at the height of the dot-com bubble, Foreman returned to banking by joining Deutsche. Although IPOs are back in vogue, he notes that his job at Lazard covers the corporate finance spectrum. “It’s about giving independent advice to long-term clients,” he says. “In many ways it’s a throwback to the old ways of the City of London, where trust and independence were strong values.” • •

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