Brooks Entwistle | The insider with outside connections

Brooks Entwistle | The insider with outside connections
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First Published: Fri, Sep 24 2010. 09 13 PM IST

At home: Brooks Entwistle’s advice to expats: make India your home, not a transit point. Jayachandran/Mint
At home: Brooks Entwistle’s advice to expats: make India your home, not a transit point. Jayachandran/Mint
Updated: Fri, Sep 24 2010. 09 13 PM IST
In February 2006, when Brooks Entwistle came to Mumbai to set up shop for Goldman Sachs in India, he was the only employee for the first few months. Operating out of a hotel suite in south Mumbai, every time he answered a call he would say, “Goldman Sachs”— and if the caller was looking for him, “Let me see if Brooks is around.” A few seconds later, in an effort to portray an image of a larger force on the ground, he would pick up the phone in another room, stir his coffee and say, “Brooks speaking.”
Today, Goldman Sachs has a team of 3,100 employees in India, including those at the firm’s service centre in Bangalore.
At home: Brooks Entwistle’s advice to expats: make India your home, not a transit point. Jayachandran/Mint
When I approached the normally reticent managing director and country head of Goldman Sachs for this meeting, he insisted that it would have to be at Koh by Ian Kittichai, the new Thai restaurant at InterContinental Marine Drive. He stayed at the hotel when he came to Mumbai to head Goldman Sachs. More importantly, he loves spicy Thai food. Entwistle attributes his love for spices and the mountains to a childhood spent in Colorado, US, where he grew up eating spicy Mexican cuisine.
As we settle down, I discover Entwistle’s Thai connection goes beyond food. He lived at Preah Vihear, in remote northern Cambodia, bordering Thailand, for two years in the early 1990s as part of a UN team to prepare Cambodia for free and fair elections. In the war zone, where shelling was a daily occurrence as the Cambodian People’s Armed Forces and the Khmer Rouge fought each other, Entwistle learnt to “manage cross-cultures and to build businesses under difficult circumstances”. He served as a district electoral supervisor, effectively the governor of the district; his partner in the mission was a woman from Sweden; the civil police in Choam Khsan, where he was based, was from Ghana; the military observers from Russia, Uruguay and Poland; and a young Australian soldier ran the radio station. Then there was the Pakistani peacekeeping force.
Entwistle, 43, started his career in Goldman in 1989 as an analyst in investment banking in New York. While working in Hong Kong in 1991, he came across a UN advertisement in the Far Eastern Economic Review seeking volunteers to conduct elections in Cambodia and decided to jump at the opportunity.
Indeed, there was a deeper reason. He was looking for Long Se Bina, a Cambodian boy whom Entwistle’s parents had adopted under a sponsorship programme of World Vision, an international relief and development organization. In April 1975, when Khmer Rouge forces began their final assault on Phnom Penh, 50-odd small children from the same orphanage where the boy lived were airlifted out. But Bina and others, who did not meet the cut-off age, were left on the streets to fend for themselves. At the request of Entwistle’s family, the Red Cross launched a hunt for the boy but the file was closed in 1978, a year before Vietnam took over Cambodia.
Now, Entwistle’s eldest daughter Bryanna, 9, is of the same age at which Entwistle lost his “brother”. He plans to take his three daughters to Cambodia this Diwali to complete the circle.
Back at Goldman Sachs in New York since 1995 after completing his MBA at Harvard Business School, he periodically used his vacation time to serve as an election monitor with the Carter Center in places such as Liberia and Mozambique because he loves to work in “countries emerging from conflicts”.
The Cambodia elections were free, fair and technically perfect. But the Khmer Rouge took over his district after six months, undoing at first blush almost two years of hard work by the team. Entwistle knows well that elections are but one piece of the puzzle of getting a country back on its feet. “Nation building is an incredibly complex, long-term process. Elections alone cannot do it. There are many issues such as leadership, governance and rule of law… This takes place over a generation,” he says.
Had he not been an investment banker, Entwistle would probably have been a diplomat with a deep interest in international affairs and foreign policy. He has tracked India closely since the late 1990s, when he returned to Hong Kong for a second stint to help start the Asian technology group of Goldman Sachs. In 2000, both he and wife Laura came to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, for campus recruitments, competing with each other: Entwistle for Goldman, and his wife for her firm, the Boston Consulting Group.
In 2003, when he went back to New York, the family thought it was for good, but when the bank chose to end its decade-old relationship with Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd and go it alone (as it wanted to offer the whole suite of products while the joint venture was only for securities and investment banking), the mantle fell on Entwistle to head it.
In October 2005, he came here on a secret trip with Laura, one that convinced them India was the place to be. Within a few months, only a duffle bag in tow, he was here, on his 50th trip to India, to “dig into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. Laura joined him a few months later with their daughters.
Since then, Goldman Sachs has invested at least $2 billion (around Rs 9,200 crore) in 45 firms. It now offers investment banking, broking, offshore asset management, fixed-income securities, private equity and non-banking finance business. It has applied to the banking regulator for a licence to get into commercial banking and the business of buying and selling government bonds. It is also keen to start its domestic asset management business.
Its employees include 16 managing directors, some of them hand-picked from rival banks such as Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and UBS. Initially, at least 25% of the employees of the Mumbai office were from the global office, to help build the culture, but now Entwistle is the only non-Indian here.
Won’t he move out soon after mentoring Sonjoy Chatterjee, his newly hired co-head in India, for the top job? Entwistle says there is no immediate plan as they have a “full life” here, deeply embedded in the community. His wife is the president of the American School in Mumbai and heads the Mumbai chapter of Room to Read, an international non-profit organization. They have church meetings in their home every week. “I wake up every morning and see there’s so much to do,” he says, digging into jasmine rice mixed with green chicken curry.
Entwistle collects old travel posters, antique maps, first-edition books and old movie posters. His office has a poster of Nargis Dutt’s superhit film Mother India. Her son Sanjay Dutt and thespian Dilip Kumar are his neighbours in Bandra’s Pali Hill. “I have a reading problem,” he tells me sheepishly, adding he could be Amazon’s biggest customer in India. Coincidentally, he spent his last birthday with actor Aamir Khan, discussing movies and education over dinner at a friend’s place.
Entwistle doesn’t consider himself an outsider in India. He is an “insider in India with strong outside global connections”. What is his advice to expats who come to India to build a business? “There is no manual on how to do it. You must go local from Day 1. Make India your home. Don’t think about your next posting,” he says.
One morning in 2007, while dropping his daughters to school, they saw a few cows, a goat, a horse, and finally, on Linking Road, an elephant. His eldest daughter Bryanna screamed with joy, saying, “Daddy, it’s just like living in a movie.”
For Entwistle, unlike his daughters, life in Mumbai is not surreal. It’s real and hectic and he is still trying to figure out how to find zones of silence. But he is not complaining. He sleeps 5 hours a night, gets up for an early run through the quiet lanes of Bandra and packs in as much as possible to live life fully, completely submerged in local culture.
tamal.b@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Sep 24 2010. 09 13 PM IST
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