In evidence that Michael Kim still feels the future for Carlyle in Asia is Korea, the firm's Asia boss has hired John Il Kwun from Goldman Sachs.
Kwun headed Goldman's North Asian M&A practice and Kim has been trying to hire him for quite some time. Kwun worked for Kim many years ago during Kim's own time at Goldman. Kwun is Korean, but was educated in the US at Exeter, Harvard and Wharton and has spent his whole career with Goldman. He learned the M&A business in New York, and according to Kim M&A runs in his blood. He has worked on deals for Hutch, SK Telecom and LG among others.
"John combines a local market knowledge with genuine M&A skills," says Kim, who adds this will be very useful for Carlyle, a private equity buyout firm with $750 million committed to Asia.
Indeed, the bulk of Carlyle's Asian investments are in Korea, with the biggest being its controlling stake in Koram Bank. Even before hiring Kwun, Kim already had eight professionals working in Seoul. So does he need one more?
"Well, we already had a good sized team in Korea," admits Kim, "but when a David Beckham comes along you have to snap them up. That was my thinking with John."
Kim says Carlyle is currently looking at two investments in Korea and that it remain Carlyle's "priority country" in Asia. He says it is the only country in Asia where private equity firms have been able to make exits and it is also where most of the deals continue to be sourced. Carlyle, he says, in spite of its concentration of Korean deals, still has significant room to grow.
With his newly hired Korean Beckham that prediction may come true.