THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

MY SECOND "BIG RIDE"

Nowadays they call them bubbles, as if they are somehow random freaky events – but I go along with those who describe economic history as a series of cycles, with peaks – i.e. bubbles – following troughs in a recurring pattern. I have been fortunate to be able to attach myself early in the upswing to three such cycles in a row.

My first pursuit fresh out of business school in 1965 was a stint in the stock market. I joined the investment research department of Chase Manhattan Bank, a block from Wall Street, but within three years I had moved to San Francisco to ply my trade as an analyst. I loved delving into financial analysis, but living in New York – not so much.

This became my "first ride" – stocks were again in vogue after a decades–long stretch of being widely viewed as treacherous, due to the deep 1930s crash. Trading volumes were now rapidly ratcheting upward, and so was the demand for stock market research. The ranks of analysts were swelling.

The next eight years were exciting and prosperous times, energized by the growth of pension funds and mutual funds with an appetite for stocks on the one side and new companies and industries on the other. I did well, rising with the tide, until the inevitable contraction showed up and put an end to the surge sometime in 1973. I was thanked for my efforts. End of ride.



Bechtel's Algiers Office in 1975

In front of the Bechtel office, located in a villa in Algiers in 1975.

Maurice in his office

Maurice Cori was Bechtel's representative in Paris, and we shared many a caper in Algiers. Always tense, like a caged tiger, he was a great mentor for me.

Hard look

I have been acccused of terrorizing the secretarial staff. No way.



BFSI General Manager

General Manager of the Financing Services Group and the world is my oyster.

At the Oasis

Cliff Cassell and I in the Sahara while working on a prospective auto assembly plant for Algeria.

Whalen

John Whalen, a fellow "international bum", who taught me so much about bureaucracies and office politics.

I found an opening at Bechtel (I describe elsewhere how that got started) doing something quite new for the time, i.e. project financing. Those two words are shorthand for raising the funds needed to build a big new facility without relying, as is usually done, upon the balance sheet of the facilityís owner. The facility could be anything, from an industrial project such as a nickel mine, a power plant, a pipeline, a refinery, to an infrastructure development such as an airport, a dam, a subway system.

This feat is achieved by setting up the project as a separate and independent operation, and creating a network of contracts to spread the risks and benefits, which normally would accrue to the owner, among other interested players.

Weaving the contract network to build a project financing is the key, and it is a creative endeavor. It requires imagining various ways of meshing the motivations of all of the projectís possible stakeholders including owners, banks, governments, local communities, multinational agencies, equipment vendors, customers, and anyone else one can think of. It relies on ingenuity, financial acumen, salesmanship, and negotiating talent. Itís also a lot of fun.

The economic consequences of the war in Vietnam provoked an enormous bout of inflation for the decade following 1971 – and a huge appetite for new commodity and infrastructure projects. It turned out that I had parted ways with the now spent wave of stock market expansion, and was being carried forward by the surging wave of project financing – in hindsight, my second ride.

Bechtelís large scale and wide scope led it to be interested in almost every major new project idea in the world, and the project financing activity was nearly always at a fever pitch. The opportunity to discuss financing opened doors and created dialogs in ways, and in venues, different from those customarily available to the technical sales specialists – and so there was a constant demand for the financing "experts" to show up and lend a hand.

This proved to be a fascinating ten–year run, counting my four years as a specialist and six more as the manager of the project financing group. The variety of opportunities was startling in its geographic spread and industrial range, and every day brought with it something new and different. It was a great adventure.

I'll list only a few specifics, otherwise this would just become a "laundry list". My French language capacity led me to spend a lot of time working on developing projects in Algeria, at the time a rising producer within OPEC with a huge appetite for development. Each visit to Algiers required a prior visa, and my passport had 25 such visas within a 48–month period. Unsurprisingly, every time I encountered Bechtelís then–president, George Shultz, he would call me "Mr. Algeria".

In 1978, With the help of a team of geologists, engineers, and investment bankers, I was able to construct an all–inclusive hydrocarbon development plan for Algeria, presenting it first for his approval to President Boumedienne, and then to lenders all around the world in support of a massive ($5 billion in money of the day) borrowing program for the country.

Working with the Treasurer of New Zealand, and a major oil company, I helped assemble the financing for a synthetic gasoline plant for New Zealand. This caused me to spend what turned out to be an entire month in Tokyo, working inside a couple of Japanese trading companies.

Meetings I remember include a couple of hours with King Hussein of Jordan in his private study (oil pipeline), and another whole afternoon with the Emir of Sharjah (a new port in Khor Fakkan), an unexpectedly smooth meeting (because of her reputation for fierceness) with Mrs. Buli at the central bank of Indonesia (new refinery), a tense, suspicion–laden one with Saddam Husseinís minister of Energy (oil pipeline), and a bright spring morning in Islamabad with Pakistanís minister of finance (hydropower dam).

This ride, too, had to come to an end. Oil prices crested and then declined, Volcker chaired the Federal Reserve and put the brakes on, over–leveraged financial institutions ran into trouble, and many project blueprints returned to the filing cabinets to await the next cycle. It was time for me to seek different horizons.