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Citi’s Miguel Azevedo Preaches Africa’s Growth Story

The region’s head of investment banking is bullish on its prospects for M&A and equity capital markets.

Because Miguel Azevedo spends two weeks each month traveling on the African continent, Citigroup’s head of African investment banking must get special permission from his firm to fly to countries affected by the Ebola crisis. Azevedo spoke to Institutional Investor just after Nigeria, the regional hub for Africa’s M&A growth story, was given the all-clear earlier this month.

The epidemic notwithstanding, investors are bullish on Africa, whose gross domestic product will expand from 5 percent to 5.75 percent in 2015, the International Monetary Fund forecasts. “Africa is long on growth opportunities and short on capital,” Azevedo says, “so part of my job is to bring the two together.”

Azevedo took his post in 2012, when Citi asked him to oversee its regionwide expansion everywhere but Egypt and South Africa. Last year he advised ex–Barclays CEO Robert Diamond Jr. on the $325 million initial public offering of Atlas Mara Co-Nvest, the African investment vehicle created by Diamond’s New York–based Atlas Merchant Capital and Ugandan financier Ashish Thakkar’s Mara Group. “There are very few individuals at bulge-bracket banks that have his level of insight, knowledge and relationships throughout Africa,” Diamond says.

Citi has a five-decade history in the region, where it does corporate banking in 16 countries and relaunched its investment banking operation two years ago. Azevedo, who splits the rest of his time between London and his hometown of Lisbon, where he also handles Portuguese corporate and investment banking, has moved fast. Citi ranked first in African M&A for the first nine months of 2014, advising on seven deals worth a collective $3.8 billion, according to Dealogic, up from No. 7 for the whole of 2013, when it worked on ten transactions valued at a combined $4.5 billion. It also ranked NO. 1 in equity capital markets, up from sixth for the previous 12 months.

Azevedo recently represented Actis, a London-based private equity firm, on the sale of its position in Nigeria’s Diamond Bank, and the Nigerian government on the privatization of Enterprise Bank. He also just advised Kenyan Brookside Dairy, East Africa’s biggest milk producer, on the sale of a 40 percent stake to French food giant Groupe Danone for an undisclosed sum.

Meanwhile, Azevedo is helping foreign companies boost the value of their African operations by seeking local listings, with an emphasis on Nigerian IPOs. “It’s the most exciting country in the region,” says the 50-year-old marathon runner. “More and more corporates are looking to the African capital markets to fund the expansion of their local businesses because valuations are highly attractive.”

In his youth Azevedo played soccer internationally for Portugal at the under-18 level. He received an economics degree from the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, where he started out at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. in 1985 as a credit analyst. After earning an MBA at City University London’s Cass Business School, he became an associate director at Banco Português de Investimento. In 1993 he moved to Goldman Sachs Group in London as an associate; promoted to executive director, he headed back home in 1997 for a brief stint at Central Banco de Investimento as COO, leaving before the firm collapsed in the wake of the tech bust.

Azevedo took a two-year break from banking to run his own wine production company, the job that first brought him to Africa. In 2000 he joined Merrill Lynch & Co., which Bank of America Corp. acquired in 2008, spending a decade covering M&A and ECM in Portugal while also doing Brazilian deals for Portuguese clients.

Having defected to Citi in 2010 to become head of corporate and investment banking for Portugal, Azevedo jumped at the chance to work in Africa. His roles there and in Portugal overlap: For example, he’s advising Porto-based industrial conglomerate Mota-Engil on strategic alternatives for its African subsidiary that include a possible IPO. “It helps coming from a small country like Portugal, where during the 1990s the capital markets were very similar to those in Africa now,” he says.

Azevedo has no illusions about the Ebola disaster. “Africa’s story has been about exceptional growth, and there is a danger that if Ebola is not brought under control, the Western perception will become a reality and GDP growth and foreign investment will be affected,” he says. • •

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