JUNGGANG, KEVIN LIM & BADAR AL SHANFARI

Oman 2021/22 | FINANCE | B2B

TBY talks to Junggang, Kevin Lim, Chairman & Managing Partner of EastBridge Partners (Singapore), and Badar Al Shanfari, EVP-Int'l Strategic Business, OMINVEST (Oman) & Deputy CEO of EastBridge Partners (Singapore), about future plans.

Junggang, Kevin Lim
JUNGGANG, KEVIN LIM
Chairman & Managing Partner
EastBridge Partners (Singapore)
Badar Al Shanfari
BADAR AL SHANFARI
EVP-Int’l Strategic Business, OMINVEST (Oman) & Deputy CEO
EastBridge Partners (Singapore)

Who are EastBridge Partners?

KEVIN LIM JUNGGANG: EastBridge Partners was founded in 2011 and is an independent private equity fund with over 40 professional offices in South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam. Our investment is focused in mid-market growth capital and buyout transactions. We generally define mid-market as companies with a value of USD50-500 million and focus on sectors that have high growth potentials such as consumer, TMTs, advanced materials, healthcare, and clean energy.

Why is EastBridge Partners interested in Southeast Asia?

KLJG: We have been operating in Southeast Asia since 2011; I personally started the regional investment strategy in 2008. The region has 700 million people, and over the years the spending power of the population has rapidly increased. We used to see Southeast Asia as a manufacturing base, and, in some ways, it is still an attractive production base. However, we cannot ignore the growing consumer strength and demand in the region. It has transformed into a region with great rates of uptake of products, making it an important target for growth. Second, because of “hallyu," or the Korean wave, there was a rise of the South Korean culture economy and pop culture. As a result, Korean products have been in high demand and well received throughout the world, and they have been particularly popular in Southeast Asia. Given our Korean heritage, we are able to use our expertise in both markets to grow in Southeast Asia.

How will a partnership between the Middle East and Southeast Asia work?

KLJG: We will support Asian companies to enter the Middle East and vice versa. This is why our company's name is EastBridge—we are focusing on opening a bridge from the world to the East. Many companies in South Korea and Southeast Asia have stellar products, but few of them venture out to the Middle East since they have no network and no ideas on how to conduct business there. We also fundraise by working together.

What is the link between OMINVEST and EastBridge Partners?

BADAR AL SHANFARI: OMINVEST is listed in the Muscat Stock Exchange and is one of the largest investment firms in the region. It was founded in 1983 and has an impressive track record of continued profitability and dividend payoff since its inception. While it is firmly rooted in Oman and the region, we are continuously looking at attracting investment opportunities and creating value for stakeholders through prudent investments, by looking at growth markets and sectors. Southeast Asia is one of the focus markets we are looking at for the reasons Kevin mentioned as well as the global megatrends supporting the case. OMINVEST, through its wholly owned subsidiary Jabreen Capital, invested in EastBridge Partners, and we are pleased with this investment and look forward to expanding it. This has become the private equity platform for OMINVEST in Southeast Asia.

What has been the progress since the acquisition of EastBridge Partners by Jabreen Capital in September 2019?

KLJG: We are fortunate to have Jabreen and OMINVEST as our partners. Since 2019. we have nearly tripled our assets under management from USD350 million to nearly USD1 billion. We achieved this by not only partnering with the Middle East but also by receiving large amounts from Korean investors. Historically, 90% of investors were from the Middle East, though lately 60% of our investors are from Korea. We have diversified our investor base and also received continued commitment from our partners in the Middle East. We have invested in a few companies through the partnership—in a digital entertainment company in Vietnam called Pops Worldwide, the leading digital platform in Southeast Asia, and Happy Call, the number-one cookware product in Korea. We want to help these companies enter the Middle Eastern market.

What does the partnership mean for OMINVEST and Jabreen?

BAS: It has been only two years so far, but they have been extremely challenging years globally, so we are proud of EastBridge's achievements. At OMINVEST and Jabreen Capital, we work closely with the companies that we invest in to create value, including looking at portfolio companies to expand to the Middle East and be based out of Oman. This creates value for the portfolio companies, high-quality jobs for Omanis, and opportunities for our stakeholders to participate in this expansion through distribution agreements, logistics, service-providing, warehousing, and more. This falls in line with OMINVEST's purpose of transforming businesses to enrich societies. For example, in the case of Happy Call, a leading household appliance business, we have been trying to find a suitable entry point in the Middle East based out of Oman, and after studying the business plan together, we have concluded that Sohar is the best location due to its proximity to the GCC market and therefore the best suited to fulfill the business plan. Another example that is still in talks is in the renewable energy space, as we are looking to set up a facility in Salalah. This is a great investment and falls in line with OMINVEST's ESG policy and strategy. Finally, OMINVEST looks at human capital as its main asset. Building capabilities is key, and a part of that is sending employees to EastBridge to work for a leading private equity firm and at the same time be based in Singapore—one of the global financial hubs.

What are the future plans for EastBridge Partners?

KLJG: We would like to continue our current momentum by deploying more capital to companies from Southeast Asia. In the next one or two years, there will be great opportunities for investment because the market is revamping again. Then, we will be able to raise larger funds and focus more on the region. We are currently targeting to invest at least 30% of our equity in the region and may seek to increase to 50% over time. In the midterm, we want to increase our local presence in select Southeast Asian countries. The key to the success of our partnership is to have the right people.

What are the future plans for OMINVEST and Jabreen?

BAS: For Southeast Asia, we are extremely excited to continue working with Kevin and the EastBridge team to grow the platform further, as we are extremely ambitious and confident that we will achieve these plans. We want to build on this success and continue the diversification plans to set up similar platforms in other growth sectors and markets that we are currently working on.