That departure left Weir, head of European metals and mining, solely in charge of JPMorgan’s Xstrata account. Swiss mining giant Xstrata is on the brink of wrapping up a $90 billion merger with commodities trader Glencore International — a deal that would be the biggest M&A transaction in Europe since 2007. It would also help cement JPMorgan’s top-tier M&A ranking, a welcome success for a firm struggling to get over a derivatives loss estimated to be at least $2 billion. Last year the bank was No. 2 in European deal volume, with $206 billion, up nearly 4 percent from fourth place in 2010, according to Dealogic.
Weir, 42, who assumed his post in February 2011, couldn’t be more different from the flamboyant Hannam. He’s a modest and understated man for whom “investment banking appears relationship-driven and not about ego,” says Charles Jacobs, a London partner at law firm Linklaters who is acting for Baar, Switzerland–based Glencore. “He builds a rapport with people and enjoys helping his clients get things done,” Jacobs adds of his fellow South African.
That approach has served Weir well. As a young M&A banker with UAL Merchant Bank in South Africa, he worked on the 1996 merger that created Evander Gold Mines, a transaction spearheaded by his client Gencor, the forerunner of miner BHP Billiton. Gencor’s CFO was Mick Davis; Lloyd Pengilly, then at Fleming Martin’s Johannesburg office, served as a lead banker on the deal. Sixteen years later the three still work together: Davis is now CEO of Xstrata, while Pengilly is Weir’s colleague at JPMorgan in London.
A product of one of South Africa’s top schools, St. John’s College in his native Johannesburg, Weir trained as a tax lawyer after earning commerce and law degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand. But his firm was in the same building as client Rand Merchant Bank, and he was soon drawn into corporate finance advisory work.
In 1999, with an MBA from the University of Cape Town, Weir moved to London investment bank Robert Fleming & Co. as an associate in corporate finance. He climbed the ranks throughout successive mergers with Chase Manhattan Bank and J.P. Morgan & Co., becoming JPMorgan’s head of U.K. M&A by 2007.
In his career as a generalist, Weir represented France’s Pernod Ricard on its $14 billion takeover of London-based beverage company Allied Domecq in 2005. In 2006 he racked up six deals worth a total of £28 billion. But he’s always liked the mining sector; his first transaction for Xstrata was the 2003 acquisition of Australian miner MIM Holdings for $2.1 billion.
Weir has sometimes toiled in the shadow of JPMorgan’s so-called mining trifecta: Hannam, Pengilly and Robin Renwick, all vice chairmen of investment banking at J.P. Morgan Cazenove. But the father of two and avid cyclist is quick to credit his peers. “Our mining and natural-resources franchise is very broad, and there are several very important bankers here,” says Weir. For special praise he singles out Neil Passmore and Joe Seifert, the executive directors of his 15-strong London-based team, which doubles as the U.K. oil and gas group.
Of Xstrata’s six named advisers, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank have been closest to the miner since it launched a decade ago. Xstrata was formed to capitalize on surging demand for commodities, driven mainly by China’s urbanization, says Weir, who got involved in the Glencore-Xstrata deal when merger talks began in 2007. “Similarly, Glencore grasped before anyone else the increasing complexity of the logistics of mining and the changing sources of supply and demand around the world, especially the implications of the rise in Chinese demand for commodities,” he explains.
Weir expects more M&A activity: “Valuations are extremely depressed versus historical averages, so the cash-rich or strategically bold see this as an opportunity to make acquisitions.” • •