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Gilberto Pozzi Keeps Goldman Sachs on Top in EMEA M&A

Goldman Sachs’ head of M&A for Europe, the Middle East and Africa expects a European deal-making revival.

Gilberto Pozzi still has the rejection letter that Goldman Sachs Group sent him when he first applied to the firm nearly 20 years ago. “They wrote and told me I didn’t have the right skills, but I lobbied them until they gave me an interview,” recalls the 47-year-old Italian. Pozzi’s tenacity won him the job, and more. Last February he was promoted to Goldman’s head of mergers and acquisitions for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, part of a dynastic shift as the bank looked to elevate its next generation of deal makers, who include Gregg Lemkau, now global co-head of M&A.

During London-based Pozzi’s first year in charge, Goldman retained its top spot in EMEA deal volume, advising on 154 transactions worth a total of $381.2 billion, according to Dealogic. That’s a 34 percent increase over 2012, when it had a hand in 176 deals with a combined value of $284.5 billion.

For Pozzi, though, blockbuster tie-ups are only part of the attraction. He just led a team that advised Stokke, a Norwegian family-run maker of baby furniture and strollers, on its sale to NXMH, the Belgian division of South Korean investment firm NXC Corp. He also recently worked on the €784 million ($1.08 billion) initial public offering of another long-standing client, French luxury skiwear maker Moncler. “It’s not just about doing the biggest deals in the world,” says Pozzi, who stays in shape by skiing and playing tennis. “Helping entrepreneurs to achieve their objectives is also a big motivation for me.”

Still, Pozzi built his reputation by working on some of Europe’s largest cross-border mergers. After persuading Goldman to give him a chance as an associate at its London office in 1995, he quickly got involved in deal making. Pozzi considers himself fortunate to have embarked on an M&A career during such exciting times. At the end of the 1990s, European deal volumes set new records with a wave of multibillion-dollar transactions in industries such as telecommunications, oil and gas, and financial services. “We were a small team, and that meant I got fantastic exposure to deals,” says Pozzi, who in 1999 advised Deutsche Telekom on its attempted $82 billion merger with Telecom Italia.

But luck wasn’t Pozzi’s only advantage. “Gilberto is sharp and savvy; given the drought of deals over the last decade, there are few that rival his knowledge and experience in M&A,” says Jean-Marc Huët, CFO of London- and Rotterdam-based consumer goods company Unilever, which Pozzi advised on its €604 million purchase of Russian cosmetics maker Concern Kalina in 2011. “He is also personable, hands-on and relentless in his client focus.”

Born and raised in Varese, a village north of Milan, Pozzi was a keen mathematician from an early age. But for practical reasons he chose to become a banker, studying finance at Bocconi University in Milan. “My parents came from a modest background, so it was clear that I would need to find a real job,” says the father of two.

When Pozzi graduated in 1989, he started applying for work abroad, where he thought the opportunities were greater. After applying for more than 70 internships, he got a job in Paris on the currency and derivatives desk at Crédit Commercial de France (now HSBC France), spending four years there. But to realize his ambition of becoming an M&A banker, Pozzi knew he would need an MBA, so he earned that degree at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania before joining Goldman.

His time at CCF had enabled him to become fluent in French, a skill that helped when he defended oil company Elf Aquitaine against a successful €52.6 billion hostile bid by compatriot TotalFina that closed in 2000. It was the first of several deals that Pozzi worked on with Yoel Zaoui, Goldman’s former global co-head of M&A, who is widely regarded as an architect of the firm’s European M&A business. (Zaoui left Goldman in 2012 to launch an independent advisory firm with his brother, Michael.)

Pozzi calls Zaoui a mentor. “He taught me to remain calm in complicated and tense situations,” says the banker, who was promoted to managing director in 2003. “That’s essential when you’re working on a deal for months on end.” In 2006 he and Zaoui teamed up for one of the highlights of Pozzi’s career: advising Indian-owned, Rotterdam-based Mittal Steel Co. on its €26.9 billion hostile takeover of Luxembourg-based rival Arcelor. “That was a very complex transaction, and at one point we thought we’d lost,” Pozzi says, referring to Arcelor’s attempt to simultaneously orchestrate a €13 billion deal with Severstal of Russia, which prompted Mittal to raise its offer from an initial €18.6 billion.

That success saw Pozzi named a Goldman partner in 2008. Two years later he became co–global head of the bank’s consumer practice, a post he held until his latest promotion. With Europe on the cusp of an M&A revival thanks to growing CEO confidence, strong financing conditions and a stabilization of the region’s sovereign debt crisis, Pozzi is keen to maintain Goldman’s momentum. “My job is to ensure that when the M&A recovery comes, we are well positioned to take advantage,” he says. “We are close to that point, so staying close to our clients is crucial.” • •

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