Oaktree Capital installs Asia chairman

Oaktree Capital Management has appointed Ralph Parks, a former Asia-Pacific chief of JP Morgan, as chairman for Asia to oversee a new private equity investment programme.

Oaktree Capital Management, an alternative investment management firm which established its presence in Asia in 1998, is counting on its latest senior appointment in Hong Kong to boost its private equity programme in the region.

The US firm has appointed Ralph Parks, a veteran banker who was most recently chairman and chief executive officer Asia Pacific at JP Morgan. Parks’ move from investment banking to private equity is part of a trend in Asia where several high profile appointments have involved the region’s most experienced banking professionals.

Parks told PEI Asia in an interview that in due course, he would also be developing strategies for other asset classes such as real estate, mezzanine financing and high-yield bonds.

Last year, Bain Capital hired Jonathan Zhu, formerly in charge of China at Morgan Stanley. Also in 2006, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts appointed Sir Deryck Maughan, former Citigroup vice-chairman, as chairman of its Asian operations. KKR is currently raising its first Asia fund.

Parks has been in Asia with JP Morgan since 2001. Between 1973 and 1975, he worked for Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong. In the time between, Parks was a partner at Goldman Sachs and Beacon Group, a New York-based investment firm that was acquired by JP Morgan in 2000.

Parks is expected to use his network of relationships he has developed over 35 years in investment banking to help Oaktree build its private equity programme in North Asia. By the end of the first quarter 2007, Oaktree anticipates having over $1.5 billion available for private equity investments in Asia. Sources say the firm is nearing the end of its ongoing fundraising.

Parks will start with Oaktree in Hong Kong on 1 February. He will be heading a team of 16 including three senior professionals focused on private equity. Oaktree established its first Asian offices in Singapore and Japan in 1998, and opened its Hong Kong office in 2005 to launch an Asian-focused private equity effort.

This month, the firm opened an office in Beijing. According to Parks, some members of the Hong Kong team will be seconded to Beijing where the firm intends to hire junior professionals. “It is important to have local knowledge and a local presence,” he says.

Howard Marks, chairman and a founding principal of Oaktree, said in a statement: “Our rapid growth in Asia, particularly in private equity, highlighted the need to create a new role to help us further develop investment opportunities, and build closer relationships with governments, regulators and companies across the region. Ralph has experience in these markets that will be hard to match.”