According to Isenberg MBA graduate Michael Philipp ’80, financial acumen gives you the tools to effect positive change. The former Chairman and CEO of Credit Suisse Europe, Middle East, and Africa is chairman and managing partner of his own merchant bank, Ambata, which capitalizes and brings best practices to projects in developing nations (principally in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America). Those ventures, emphasizes Michael, all focus on clean, sustainable energy, food, water, or waste.
In a second undertaking, Michael is partnering with his son, Kyle, and British rock star Dave Stewart (co-founder of the Eurhythmics) in First Artists Bank. The venture will empower musicians and other artists with financial leverage, transparency, and best practices. Its principal outward face—a mobile app which has been beta-tested among 10,000 users—will serve fifteen categories of creative professionals. Philipp and his son emphasize that it will offer bottom-up retail banking, financial management tools and analytics, financial networking, and trusted financial advice.
Making a Positive Difference in the Developing World. “I spend 80% of my time with Ambata, much of it on our principal project in Ethiopia to extract clean geothermal energy from the Rift Valley,” says Michael. “Ethiopia wants to be an exporter of power throughout Africa’s energy grids,” he remarks. “As the first independent energy producer in Ethiopia, we are building roads, installing drilling pads, and bringing in rigs from Iceland and New Zealand. The initiative, he adds, will build two 500 megawatt geothermal power plants, the first which will be operational in 2018.
“My job is mostly about relationships,” he continues. “I deal with heads of development banks as well as the presidents of Iceland, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.” Michael assembles waves of debt and equity financing that hedge against his projects’ risks and bring leverage to their assets. “You feel like you’re doing something good for the region. And finance is underneath it all,” he remarks.
Career Highlights. Michael’s involvement in developing nations dates to 2000-2002, when as one of the first two non-German board members at Deutsche Bank, he was responsible for its businesses in the Middle East and Africa.*
From 2005 to 2008, he expanded his global reach as Chairman and CEO of Credit Suisse Europe, Middle East, and Africa. A former potter and fine arts major, Michael gained his first immersion in finance during his MBA years as a research assistant for two Isenberg professors, Thomas Schneeweis and Joanne Hill. Their innovative work in futures and options and their industry connections helped launch him to a series of challenges after graduation with Goldman Sachs. A decade later, he become Global Head of Futures and Options with Merrill Lynch.
In honor of Professor Schneeweis, Michael created the Michael and Cheryl Philipp Chair in Finance at Isenberg a decade ago. Isenberg professor Hossein Kazemi succeeded Schneeweis in the chair last year. Reflecting on his roots as an artist and his empowerment as a financial professional, Michael offers Isenberg students unqualified encouragement: “You can go anywhere you want from sitting in these chairs,” he emphasizes.
* At Deutsche Bank he had previously held a number of senior management positions, including Chairman and CEO of Deutsche Asset Management ($600+ billion of client assets).