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Introducing the crew behind Tidjane Thiam’s new blank-cheque company

By Aurélie M'Bida
Posted on Wednesday, 17 February 2021 14:56

Former CEO Tidjane Thiam of Swiss bank Credit Suisse is looking for new business. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Tidjane Thiam, the Franco-Ivorian former head of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, is embarking on a new project. His blank-cheque company is launching its operations and looking for new business.

Made up of close associates Thiam met while at the helm of Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse (2015-2020) and British insurer Prudential, the team of international finance executives the financier has assembled is on a mission to persuade investors to sink money into the new fund.

Thiam, Adam Gishen and Abhishek Bhatia are the trio behind Freedom Acquisition I Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) set to launch its initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange.

‘Gang of four’

Thiam’s wingmen tasked with leading the new vehicle, which made its debut in January, are seasoned professionals.

Case in point: Adam Gishen, who came under the media spotlight after being implicated in the Credit Suisse corporate spying scandal as a member of the “gang of four” – the inside nickname used to refer to Thiam, Gishen, Pierre-Olivier Bouée and Peter Goerke.

Gishen, one of Thiam’s close associates from his days at Prudential in London, will serve as chief executive officer of Freedom Acquisition I. Corp.

Gishen joined Credit Suisse in 2015 as senior adviser to the CEO and went on to become head of investor relations, corporate communications, marketing and branding before he followed his former boss out the door a few days after the latter’s resignation. Before embarking on a career at the Zurich-based banking group, Gishen had taken a more low-key track.

The University of Leeds graduate was, for instance, a partner at Ondra Partners, a financial advisory firm, as well as managing director at Nomura in London and Lehman Brothers from 1999 to 2008, where he specialised in equity markets. The SPAC’s filings at the Securities and Exchange Commission say that Gishen “is expected to serve as one of our initial board observers”.

Board observer

Abhishek Bhatia will serve as board observer and has extensive international finance experience. Bhatia most recently worked at the Asian insurtech firm FWD Group (2015-2020), where he served as chief executive officer of FWD’s business in Singapore.

Prior to joining FWD, Bhatia received a degree in economics from the University of Delhi and spent 15 years with Prudential in senior roles at several of the UK company’s subsidiaries.

One such role was chief executive officer of Prudential Poland, where he oversaw the establishment of the company. Earlier in his career with the insurer, he worked out of Hong Kong as regional director of insurance. Bhatia also held senior roles with Prudential in Malaysia and India.

Thiam was chief executive of the London-based insurer for seven years. By the time he left the company in 2015, he had spearheaded a major transformation strategy and gotten the business back on track by focusing on markets in Asia, where business premiums and operating profit doubled under his leadership.

The role of board observer, which is common in the United States, is a solution for investors who want to keep an eye on their investments while avoiding incurring the responsibility of a member of the board of directors.

“We believe that the collective experience of our founders, in combination with their deep and broad global network of relationships across public and private sectors in both mature as well as emerging markets, provides us with a competitive advantage to identify, structure, finance and acquire the operations of a compelling target business,” the company wrote in its investor prospectus.

The SPAC’s board is taking shape

In addition to the vehicle’s core leaders, the future board of directors will include new members from the SPAC’s main sponsor, the Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO), which has some $2.2trn in assets under management.

The investment fund, owned by German insurance heavyweight Allianz, intends to purchase nearly $25m worth of units during the Thiam-led vehicle’s IPO launch.

Jamie Weinstein, a managing director at PIMCO, is due to serve on the newly created SPAC’s board of directors. Prior to joining PIMCO in 2019, Weinstein worked for 10 years at US private equity firm KKR, served as director of acquisitions for Northern California with Tishman Speyer Properties and was a consultant at Boston Consulting Group.

He will be seconded by Daniel Ballen and Dan Degtyar, both of whom are set to serve as PIMCO’s initial board observers.

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