Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman wasn't going to miss his chance. It didn't matter that he was on holiday. Gorman dropped everything and flew to Beijing last April. He wanted to show up in person to make sure his firm got a piece of what was shaping up to be the biggest initial public offering in history.
In Beijing, Gorman spent hours rehearsing with his team for a half-hour pitch to executives of Agricultural Bank of China, whose IPO would eventually raise $22 billion.
"For a half-hour bake-off, he came all that way," Wei Christianson, Morgan Stanley's China CEO, said in an interview last month from her office near Financial Street in Beijing.
As he practiced, the Australian-born CEO debated with colleagues about whether the Chinese bankers would want to hear his stories about farming in the outback.
Gorman was not the only top Wall Street executive looking to get in on the AgBank deal.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann also went to China to make their pitch, and in the end all three banks secured an underwriting assignment for the bank's Hong Kong offering.
For a while at least, with their eyes dead set on the AgBank pot of gold, global bankers could set aside concerns about the challenges they face in China, a market they are desperately trying to crack but where they are finding more setbacks than successes.
Why they want in is no mystery.
Economists at Goldman Sachs believe that mainland China's market capitalisation will rise to $41 trillion by 2030 from $5 trillion now. That would make China's stock market the biggest in the world.
US market cap is expected to grow to $34 trillion from $14 trillion over that time.
But with China, American financial powerhouses may have met their match. Here, government connections and family ties can trump decades of banking experience and western swagger. So for all their efforts - and kowtowing - this is likely to remain one tough market Wall Street firms.
Image: Xiang Junbo, Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Agricultural Bank of China, second from right, and Yu Zhengsheng, Secretary of the Communist Party in Shanghai, right, mark the start of trading for the bank at the Shanghai Stock Exchange in Shanghai, China on July 15, 2010. State-owned Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. raised up to US$22.1 billion in a mammoth initial public offering despite the global economic crisis and concerns about its profitability.
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