Online Extra: Q&A With Mark Machin

The Hong Kong-based privatization whiz on why he left medicine and the deals that are closest to my heart

It's not so often that you meet a physician turned investment banker. And it's even rarer to meet one who, for a short time, and at the tender age of 25, became a leading world expert on leprosy transmission. Now, 13 years later, Mark Machin is again at the top of his game, this time as the head of Asia Capital Markets at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong. Last year, he led his team to become the top-ranked investment bank based on debt and equity deals in the region, raising $6.8 billion.

He recently spoke to BusinessWeek Asia Correspondent Fredrik Balfour about his unusual career path. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: How did you become a medical expert at 25?


I had done research on leprosy in Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. People had believed that it was transmitted like an aerosol spray, but no one ever looked at the historical data with statistical rigor. I looked at 100 years of surveys, and did my thesis on it in my final year at Oriel College. For a brief moment I was the leading world authority on transmission of leprosy.

Q: So why did you quit medicine two years later?


Though I loved medicine and think it's a wonderful profession -- and this answer may sound a bit glib -- but I don't believe in reincarnation. I knew I had only one life, and if I didn't do it then I could see my life stretched out before me at the young age of 27.

Q: What made you want to work at Goldman Sachs?


I thought I'd do finance for a couple of years. Goldman (GS ) seemed like a cultural fit, a character fit. I'd been rowing since I was 14, and when I looked at Goldman and I saw people like Michael and Mark Evans [Canadian twins who rowed at Oxford before Machin and who won the Olympic Gold medal in Los Angeles in 1984] were there, I knew I would fit.

Rowing is a sport requiring special focus. You don't have to explain why you work harder to get the edge. That type of mentality appealed to me so I joined. When they said the hours were absurd, I said, "I'm a doctor and just worked 110 hours last week."

Q: What did you do first?


I did general corporate finance in London from 1991 to 1993. Then I moved to capital markets. That was a peak time of European privatization. I worked on the privatization of TelDanmark, the largest ever IPO at the time. Then I moved to Hong Kong in 1994, and I've built my career on privatizations.

Q: What's special about them?


Everything must be done so excruciatingly carefully because of the level of public scrutiny. They require balancing both the financial and political considerations. They are the pinnacle of our business. It also takes so long.

Chunghwa Telecom [In Taiwan] took six years to get to market. We finally raised $1.7 billion.... That was one of the most satisfying transactions. The China Mobile IPO, which was the biggest privatization in Asia at the time, and two follow-on offerings remain two deals closest to my heart.

The 2002 Bank of China privatization in Hong Kong was a very tough deal. There was lots of skepticism about China. The stock traded flat for six months, and at the end of last year it doubled.

Q: Do you still row?


Not since 1998, when my team won the Hong Kong championships. Now I run and cycle. I have a Trek road bike, the same model that Lance Armstrong rides.

Q: What about the long hours?


There isn't a day in the year when I don't do some kind of work.

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