The Ontario Municipal Employees' Retirement System (Omers) has just added its second private equity professional in Asia as the Canadian pension scheme builds its nascent presence in Singapore.

Jeffrey French started with the C$96 billion ($73 billion) fund as an investment director yesterday (December 2), reporting to David Payne, Asia-Pacific head of private equity, according to an internal email seen by AsianInvestor.

French previously spent six years at Blackstone in Singapore investing across Asia Pacific before he left the private equity giant in June. The US firm did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

A native of the Lion City, French has also worked at investment banks Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs across New York and Singapore.

Jeffrey French

Toronto-based Omers declined to comment for this article when contacted by AsianInvestor. But a source familiar with the fund told AsianInvestor that French would likely be evaluating potential private equity deals for the fund.

“Whatever plan [Omers's private equity division] have for Asia is obviously ripening,” the executive said. “It will presumably come through in the new year.”

Traditionally the fund's private equity business has been focused on majority control buyouts, he added, but in recent years has been experimenting with minority ownership deals in Europe and the US. That approach will make sense in Asia, where controlling stakes are harder to come by.

SLOW BUT STEADY

It also reflects the relatively cautious approach taken by all Omers's teams to growing their footprint in Singapore as they adapt to the region's local markets, the executive said.

Like other large global asset owners, including its Canadian peers and the Netherlands' APG, the pension fund has been sticking to its strategic plan despite geopolitical turbulence and uncertainty, albeit remaining wary given the uncertain environment.

For example, Omers has also been building out a capital markets desk in Singapore this year. Kannan Venkataramani joined in October as a managing director reporting to Asia-Pacific team head Ashish Goyal, who came on board in July. Both men previously worked at NN Investment Partners (NNIP), but left the Dutch fund house in May, after it starting winding down its emerging market equity desk in late 2018.

Omers had launched its Singapore office in January last year as its second presence in Asia Pacific, after opening an infrastructure-focused branch in Sydney.

Payne has been in place in the Singapore branch since it opened, as have Bruce Crane, David Matheson and Brijesh Chopra, who regionally oversee infrastructure, real estate and capital markets, respectively. Chopra now reports to Goyal.

Omers has been steadily ramping up its exposure in the different asset classes in Asia-Pacific, such as buying into toll roads via Indian infrastructure investment trusts, into property in Australia and into stock-market listings such as that of Hong Kong real estate developer ESR in October.