Ep. 7: Viktor Shvets on The Great Rupture



In this episode of the Portico Podcast I speak with Viktor Shvets, a global strategist at Macquarie, and the author of the deeply thought-provoking book The Great Rupture, which investigates the past and interrogates current trends to probe the question: do we need to be free to be innovative, prosperous, or even happy?

You know, when I started this company, I laid out three philosophical principles for its ethos: intergenerational equity; value creation > value extraction; and intellectual curiosity — particularly a belief in the importance of contextual and interdisciplinary thinking and open exchange. 

As you’ll hear, Viktor’s comments deftly navigate these three principles.

You may want to grab a pen and some paper to take notes for this episode because Viktor is a polymath who will engage your brain in some important — and at times, unsettling — thought experiments.

In today’s conversation, Viktor and I discuss:

  • Why he wrote a book that looks for lessons in the 12th to 15th Centuries to guide us through the next two decades;
  • Whether the ‘operating system’ of open markets, property rights, and open minds that generated prosperity in the past is in retreat — and even if it were, would it matter;
  • The confluence of the information revolution and financial revolution, and how these two forces are hollowing out the core frameworks of society;
  • The state’s usurpation of the free market and what it means for capitalism and commercial banking;
  • The prospects for emerging markets in an era of de-globalization and the importance of non-tradable sectors across EM; 
  • We even talk about Andrew Yang and the possibility that universal basic income might liberate people from scarcity, and empower them to live lives of their choosing.

But there is so, so much more.

This is a good companion to my interview with Tom Burgis in Episode 4 on The Rise of Kleptocracy, and the topic of corruption comes up a couple times in this episode, so you should check out Episode 4 if you haven’t already. 

And I’ve also included links in the show notes that will point you to a few additional readings that Viktor and I discuss, including some of my own writings over the last decade that have marinated over some similar themes.

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

This podcast was recorded in February 2021.


Learn more about Viktor and the book.

Buy The Great Rupture at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBoundWaterstones.


Books and articles referenced include:


Some of Mike’s writings on the themes discussed include:

Ep. 6: Investing in Frontier & Fragile Markets



In this episode of the Portico Podcast I speak with Jake Cusack, co-founder and Managing Partner of The CrossBoundary Group, a firm that unlocks private capital for sustainable growth and strong returns in underserved markets.

I first reached out to Jake about 10 years ago after he and one of his co-founders published a study on entrepreneurship and private sector development in Afghanistan.

That initial contact kicked off a series of conversations on how to harness markets and mobilize private capital in order to build businesses in frontier and fragile markets, which is the overarching topic of this episode.

In today’s conversation, Jake and I discuss:

  • His journey from the Marine Corps to co-founding CrossBoundary with a couple classmates from Harvard;
  • Why investment is a better tool for development than the provision of grants;
  • The critical role that investment facilitation plays in creating investable pipeline;
  • The rationale for CrossBoundary’s expansion from an advisory firm to a group that also manages investments
  • The suitability of the traditional private equity model in frontier markets;
  • Recruitment and how to inculcate a shared culture across a globally dispersed footprint;
  • CrossBoundary’s recent initiative to open source its approach to project financing mini-grids;
  • And much, much more.

There are loads of links below that will take you to the articles, books, and reports discussed in the episode, as well as other resources of interest.

These include CrossBoundary’s research studies with IFC on private equity in fragile and conflict-affected situations in Sub-Saharan Africa, their recent report on scaling up investment in Africa in the Covid-19 era with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and many others.

If you’re interested in their open-source initiative for mini-grids, the team will be sharing term sheets for the project finance contracts, as well as a template model, on 15 February — so take a look and take action if this is in your area of interest.

This is a great companion to my interview with Roger Leeds in Episode 2 on Private Equity & Development. So, if you missed that interview, I invite you to visit the archive and give it a listen.

And if you’re feeling motivated after listening to Jake, then navigate to crossboundary.com/careers to peruse their job openings.

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

This podcast was recorded in January 2021.


CrossBoundary resources referenced in this episode include:


Books and articles referenced include:


You may also find some of Jake’s writing below:

Ep. 5: Weijian Shan on Leverage and Turnarounds in Asia



In this episode, I speak with Weijian Shan, the chairman and CEO of PAG — a leading Asia-focused alternative investments firm with ~ $40 billion of assets under management.

Prior to PAG, Shan was a co-managing partner of TPG Asia (formerly known as Newbridge Capital).

It was a real honor to have Shan on the podcast, as his life story is remarkable.

If you haven’t read his memoir Out of the Gobi yet, I heartily encourage you to do so. It’s an extraordinary book that recounts Shan’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution — particularly the six years he spent doing hard labor in a re-education camp — and the transformative impact that the normalization of U.S.-China relations and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms had on China generally, and on Shan in particular.

And he’s just written a new book called Money Games, which details the rescue of one of Korea’s largest banks on the heels of the Asian Financial Crisis.

I reached out to Shan after finishing Money Games because — in addition to providing one of the few narratives to detail a private equity transaction from sourcing through exit — I think his book offers tremendous insights into the art of private equity deal-making, and I wanted to explore some of the themes it raises.

In addition to his books, Shan and I discuss the importance of stakeholder analysis when structuring private equity investments; whether there is a problem of too much debt in the Chinese economy; SOE reform, and the prospects for China’s economic rebalancing toward domestic consumption; the institutionalization of private equity in Asia; and, his advice for younger people who wish to pursue a career in private equity, among other topics.

Shan’s thoughtful comments prompted me to rethink some of my own analyses and assumptions. I really enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you will, too.

This podcast was recorded in December 2020.

Ep. 4: The Rise of Kleptocracy



In today’s episode I speak with Tom Burgis, an investigations correspondent with the Financial Times, and author of two courageous books: The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth and the recently released Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World.

I strongly encourage you to buy copies of Tom’s books, read them, and share them with others.

Why?

Because as you’ll hear in this podcast, the themes his books cover constitute an existential threat to democratic institutions and governance — and the rule of law — globally.

They’re absolutely riveting yarns, full of intrigue and consequences.

And my hope is that if more people read Tom’s work, then we’ll stand a better chance of resisting the precipitous slide into kleptocracy that endangers us all.

Courage is contagious.

My discussion with Tom covers:

  • The dots connecting The Looting Machine and Kleptopia.
  • The story of Mukhtar Ablyazov — a Kazakh billionaire whom some say is a freedom fighter, some say is a fraudster, and some say maybe he’s both.
  • The complicity of U.S. and UK professional services firms in facilitating the activities and laundering the funds and reputations of kleptocrats.
  • Some mistaken assumptions behind the ‘convergence’ thesis.
  • How citizens can keep Kleptopia in check and revivify democracy.
  • John Kenneth Galbraith’s notion of ‘the bezzle’ and where ‘the bezzle’ is biggest now.
  • And, what the rise of Substack and the proliferation of journalists going solo or direct-to-consumer imports for the future of investigative journalism.

I’m fired up about this episode, and I hope you will be, too.

If you enjoy the Portico Podcast, please share it with friends, colleagues, and / or your connections on social media. Thanks!

This podcast was recorded in November 2020.

Ep. 3: Fintech & Financial Inclusion



In the third episode of The Portico Podcast I speak with Monica Brand Engel — a co-founding Partner at Quona Capital, a venture capital firm focused on fintech for inclusion in emerging markets.

If you’ve looked into EM fintech, you’ve probably come across Quona and their portfolio companies.

For example:

  • Sokowatch in East Africa, a working capital provider and last-mile distributor of fast-moving consumer goods to informal retailers;
  • Coins in the Philippines, a mobile, branchless, blockchain-based platform that provides unbanked and underbanked customers with direct access to basic financial services (and which was acquired by Go-Jek in 2019);
  • Or Konfio, a digital banking and software platform for SMEs in Mexico, which received a $100m investment from Softbank as well as a $100m secured credit facility from Goldman Sachs last year.

I was excited to get Monica on the podcast because she has built a career in two of the most compelling themes around: financial inclusion and financial technology.

Our discussion opens with her walking us through her career trajectory. We then talk about the convergence between philanthropic and commercial investment across emerging markets; the commonalities and idiosyncrasies across the markets in which Quona invests; the quality of fintech entrepreneurship in EM; the prospects for technological and business model innovation to migrate from emerging markets to the United States and Western Europe; and the biggest obstacles fintech startups encounter as they attempt to scale, among other topics.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.


This podcast was recorded in October 2020.

Ep. 2: Private Equity & Development



When I decided to launch the podcast, I wanted today’s interviewee — Roger Leeds — to be one of the first guests. And I wanted to explore the theme of private equity and its role in private sector development in emerging and frontier markets.

A bit of background may be helpful.

15 years ago or so I was working for the Department of Defense on strategies to address a variety of intractable issues.

For one such issue, I was the youngest member of an interagency team working with senior civilian and military commanders in Baghdad and Kabul on interior ministry and police reform.  U.S. policymakers had dubbed 2006 the “Year of the Police,” but as the year passed by, the results trickled in; and I grew increasingly skeptical about the ability of the United States to effect positive and enduring change in Iraq. 

Moreover, when viewed in a broader perspective of state-building, counterterrorism and U.S. national security objectives, I became convinced that the only viable long-term solution was to drive investment into the region, create jobs and, over time, generate licit opportunities for people to feed their families.

So, it was off to grad school to study economics and finance, where I serendipitously learned about something called private equity and how it could drive private sector development in emerging markets.

Roger Leeds taught that course. He had a profound influence on me when I was a student at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and his positive influence endures to this day.


Roger worked as an international financier for 25 years before joining the faculty at SAIS. After working as an investment banker at Salomon Brothers, Roger was at the forefront of the development of the emerging market private equity industry, not only as a senior staff member at the International Finance Corporation, but also as a private equity investor, and as the co-founder of the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association (EMPEA).

Roger is the author of Private Equity Investing in Emerging Markets: Opportunities for Value Creation — the seminal book on the topic, which I encourage every listener to pick up and read.


In our discussion today, we talk about the structural drivers that make private equity a useful investment strategy in emerging markets, and how it is qualitatively different than the leveraged buyout model that is prevalent in the United States and Western Europe.

We also talk about the hollowing out of mid-market PE funds in emerging markets and why it’s a problem, the story of local currency PE funds in China, and his work with Francis Fukuyama on the Leadership Academy for Development, among other things.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

This podcast was recorded in July 2020.


Buy Roger’s book directly from the publisher, or via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, JD.com, or wherever fine books are sold.


Ep. 1: Early-stage VC in Africa



I’m delighted to kick off the podcast with Aniko Szigetvari and Ik Kanu.

Aniko and Ik are the founding partners of Atlantica Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on six of the largest markets in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Aniko has over 20 years of experience investing in emerging markets, of which over 17 have been focused on the technology, media and telecom vertical.

Aniko has been investing in Africa for the past 15 years and she has built up a wide range of contacts across the continent and other emerging markets. Prior to starting Atlantica Ventures (‘AV’) Aniko was the Global Head of the TMT group at the International Finance Corporation, where she managed a team of ~50 professionals who sat in eight regional hubs from Colombia to Singapore.


Ik has over 10 years of African private equity experience, with an additional nine years working in technology and consulting in the United States.

Prior to starting AV, Ik was a principal at Convergence Partners — an Africa-focused TMT fund — and before that he spent five years with Helios Investment Partners. At both PE funds, Ik was seconded to portfolio companies into temporary operational management positions where he troubleshot issues across different stages — from growth to turnaround. Ik is a Class 23 Kauffman Fellow, one of the world’s premier innovation, leadership, and venture capital-focused programs.


In our discussion, we talk about why Aniko and Ik decided to team up to found a venture capital firm, whether the continent is ready for institutional VC investments, how Africa compares to other emerging markets, and how Covid-19 is impacting the startup landscape in their target markets.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

This podcast was recorded in April 2020.