The profile of James Passin, an American equity-fund investor who really strikes when the iron is hot – that is, the resource boom that drives Mongolia’s economic growth to an unprecedented double-digit percentage today. His full article is available on Bloomberg Businessweek.
Passin, 41, has at least $130 million in three funds that he oversees for his employer, Firebird Management, a Manhattan firm that specializes in emerging markets. Passin controls four companies listed on the Mongolian Stock Exchange—in coal, fluorite, and real estate—as well as an undisclosed number of private enterprises. His placements make Firebird one of Mongolia’s largest and most diversified foreign private equity funds.
Until a few months ago, many other international investors shared Passin’s enthusiasm for the Mongolian market. The country, with a 17.3 percent growth rate in 2011, had the fastest-growing economy in the world. A sparsely populated nation of 3.2 million run by communists until 1990, Mongolia has discovered a bounty of natural resources. Lying on an ancient seabed, where sedimentary basins cooked carbon for millennia, the country has about 130 billion tons of coal. Iron, copper, uranium, silver, fluorite, and many other minerals are also in abundance. The estimated value of it all runs into the trillions of dollars.
The story of how Farouk al-Kasim, an Iraqi oil engineer, seeking refuge out of his country’s internal turmoil, ended up rescuing the whole Norwegian nation from their resource curse, the ‘Dutch disease’. Read the full article on Financial Times.
In 1952, the Iraq Petroleum Company had reluctantly agreed to train young Iraqis to work alongside its colonial-era masters. It would sponsor batches of Iraqi students to study abroad with the promise of a job afterwards. At only 16, the precocious al-Kasim was selected for the first intake and sent to study petroleum geology at Imperial College London. He returned to Iraq in 1957 – by then married to Solfrid, who had been working in London as an au pair.
Once home, al-Kasim started his working life at the company. Half a century later, eyes shining with glee, he recalls the first time he entered the oil executives’ club in Basra. “I walked across the room, straight up to the bar, where I sat down and ordered a drink. Then I turned around and looked back at all the British managers with their wives, who were staring at me in silence. It was the first time they had seen an Iraqi enter the club, except as a servant.”
But the company could reassure itself that he was no radical anti-imperialist. “I’m a mild man … I got the impression that I fitted in their scheme as a balanced person who will take over management at one time, and treat IPC fairly.” When he left at 31, he was number five at the company and its highest-ranking Iraqi.
Al-Kasim and his family wouldn’t have left Iraq but for their son’s medical problems, but even so, the move was politically sensitive. In the past, he’d been stopped at the border on orders from the secret police, who considered him a key figure for any future nationalisation of the oil industry. Now it took months to secure permission to take his son for what they had to pretend would be short-term medical treatment abroad. “It was a smuggling operation … we were only trying to save the life of our youngest child. But in Iraq, these things don’t matter.”