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Wendel into Asia

A leading name in French private equity has hired an AXA veteran to set down roots in Singapore.

As part of a strategy of international expansion, listed Paris-based private equity firm Wendel Investissement has launched a new office in Singapore and appointed former AXA executive Philippe Donnet to spearhead its operations in Asia Pacific.

The office is Wendel's first outside its home country. Until 2006 the firm was focused on French investments only, notably teaming with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to acquire electricals business Legrand for €3.6 billion ($4.8 billion) in July 2002.

Last year the firm announced a strategy of expansion into overseas markets. In April 2006, it completed its first deal in the US with the acquisition of high-performance connectors business Deutsch Group for $1 billion. During the year, the firm also completed two purchases in the Netherlands.

Now Wendel's focus has turned to Asia, where, according to a press release issued by the firm, ?the majority of our companies already have a presence?. Asked whether the motivation for Wendel's Singapore move was to source new deal flow or assist the growth plans of existing portfolio companies, a source close to the firm said he thought it would be ?completely open minded?, but added that he would be surprised if there were not an element of both.

In its recent 2006 results announcement, Wendel revealed that it had approximately €3 billion of capital available to invest in new deals, while its portfolio companies had a total of around €2 billion for investment in add-on acquisitions.

Donnet, 46, who becomes Wendel's managing director for Asia Pacific, has held a number of positions within AXA Group since joining the French insurance giant in 1985. These included CEO roles at AXA Italy, AXA Mediterranean region and Canada, AXA Re, AXA Japan and, most recently, AXA Japan and Asia Pacific region.

Founded as far back as 1704, Wendel was a family investment group that supported industrial enterprises until 1978 when it also began investing in services businesses. Until 2002, the firm's portfolio comprised minority stakes in French public companies. But when Jean-Bernard Lafonta took over as CEO in June of that year, he changed the strategy to one of acquiring controlling interests in unquoted firms.

Credit Suisse lures Ritchie Asian team
Credit Suisse Private Equity Asia has recruited a six-strong team led by Harjit Bhatia from struggling US hedge fund group Ritchie Capital, as it looks to build its private equity offering in Asia.

Bhatia, who was appointed by Ritchie in 2005 to spearhead its Asian expansion, has joined as managing partner and head of the firm. He will bring with him a team of five, comprising Hemang Raja, Rakesh Mital, Soma Ghosal Dhar, Isiah Zhang and Imelda Tham.

Credit Suisse's current Asian private equity business includes a joint venture with China Renaissance Capital Investment and two dedicated funds.

Bhatia was previously Asia Pacific chairman and chief executive officer of Ritchie Capital Management (Hong Kong). Prior to that, he spent 11 years at GE, including a spell as president and chief executive of its corporate financial services arm in Asia.

Raja, who joins Credit Suisse as managing director, was previously head of India operations at Ritchie. He will be based in Mumbai together with Dhar, who previously worked at Ritchie and GE's private equity group. The rest of the team will be based in Hong Kong.

Warburg Pincus hires in India
Warburg Pincus has recruited Leo Puri, former co-head of consultant McKinsey's financial services practice in India, as a managing director. The appointment follows the resignation of Pulak Prasad, former co-head of Warburg Pincus India.

Prasad, who left the firm late last year, is credited for initiating Warburg's most successful investment in India: the 1999 Bharti Televentures deal. Upon exit in 2005,Warburg Pincus made about six times its money from the transaction.

Puri, who will work in New York before moving to a permanent base in Mumbai, has been tasked with expanding the firm's investment activity across Asia, with a particular focus on India. The buyout firm wants to put about $1 billion to work in the country over the next few years.