If you want something bought or sold, you go to Matthew Grounds. After all, Kerry Stokes did. So did James Packer. And Ralph Norris. His fingerprints are on deals stitched up for AMP, Shell and the Future Fund for starters.
In fact, the UBS CEO features in the foreground of almost every big deal you can think of from the past five years. Grounds has the most impressive Rolodex of the money movers top 10. And he doesn’t play favourites. He’s happy advising everyone and anyone at the top end of town — as long as his bank gets a slice of the action.
But if you’re not a player? Forget about it, he doesn’t want to know you.
“Matthew has pretty much got access all areas,” says one investment banking insider. “Which doesn’t mean that he hasn’t broken a few bones to get there. UBS is a real take-no-prisoners bank. They play the game hard. And they don’t like losing.”
Take Kerry Stokes, for example. Grounds was a key adviser to the West Australian entrepreneur when he was trying to push through his $2 billion bid to merge Seven Network with WesTrac. Grounds was brought in as the banker who could get the deal over the line, a reputation that precedes him.
This reputation for toughness has won “Groundsy” plenty of friends in the hard-nosed world of investment banking. One of those friends being James Douglas Packer.
Grounds has been a long-time adviser to Packer HQ, continuing the groundwork laid by ex-UBS chief and Packer confidant Chris McKay. And UBS is involved in pretty much everything Packer does. It handled PBL’s sale of Channel Nine, as well as Packer’s 10-day $912 million asset sell-off in 2009 and last year’s $270 million share raid on Channel Ten.
Those who have worked with Grounds say his relationship with the billionaire is more than just business, and that most of his friends can be found in the Packer social set. Grounds attended James’ Cote d’Azur wedding in June 2007.
“In my view, Matthew is Australia’s pre-eminent investment banker,” Packer lieutenant John Alexander once told Fairfax in 2009. “He is very strategic, he is commercially nimble and, above all, highly effective.”
“Commercially nimble” is a good way of describing Grounds. Because when he’s not working for Packer, or advising Stokes, he’s bringing people closer together — in the interests of inking a deal, of course. Grounds even once brokered a ceasefire between the warring media moguls, after Stokes made an audacious play to take control of Consolidated Media Holdings.
As one informant told The Power Index, Grounds has a “chameleon-like ability to work on two different sides that were perhaps once at odds with each other”.
And it’s those diplomatic skills that Grounds used to his advantage many times in the past — most recently in his work advising both sides, at one point or another, of the Canadian Pension Plan’s $900 million sale of its stake in Transurban.
He also has a habit of getting in on deals at the last minute. When the Commonwealth Bank jettisoned Merrill Lynch from its $2 billion equity raising effort in 2009, Grounds was first to pick up the pieces. Legend has it, Grounds phoned CBA CEO Ralph Norris at 8am the morning after it all went pear-shaped to win the mandate and a $30 million fee for his bank.