Westport goes East

Ernst & Young veteran Jack Rodman has joined Westport Capital Partners to help grow the private equity firm's business in Asia.

Jack Rodman, a 37-year veteran of Ernst & Young and a specialist in distressed real estate in Asia, has joined Westport Capital Partners as a senior advisor. At Westport, the Connecticut-based private equity real estate firm founded by Russell Bernard and other former Oaktree Capital professionals, Rodman, who is based in Beijing, will focus on sourcing distressed assets in Asia, particularly in China.

At Ernst & Young, Rodman was a key player in pioneering the non-performing loan market in both Japan and China. Since 2002, he has worked with most of the big, state-owned Chinese banks and asset management companies in restructuring their nonperforming loan portfolios. Now, Rodman is hoping to use some of those contacts to find the small, distressed deals that fit Westport's pro-file. There are a lot of them, he says, but you have to know where to look. And you have to be patient.

“Deal flow [in China] is inconsistent,” Rodman says. “It's spotty. One of the things I like about Westport—I don't have a mandate to put out $100 or $200 million each year. There may be an opportunity in the future to do that, but right now the future is a little unclear. When the market opens up, we'll be ready to go.”

Westport has already been making inroads into China. Last year, the firm acquired an underperforming office and retail property in Macau.

Rodman has known the principals at Westport for more than 15 years dating back to his tenure running the Los Angeles office of Kenneth Leventhal, a predecessor firm to Ernst & Young. He kept in touch with the Westport principals over the years and when it came time for Rodman to retire—Ernst & Young has mandatory retirement at age 60— both sides felt that there could be a lot of benefits in working together. “The Chinese have an expression: dui shuang fang dou hao—good for you, good for me,” says Rodman.

Though Rodman says Ernst & Young has been a great home, he is looking forward to moving out of the advisory side into direct investment. Not only can he focus on sourcing deals without worrying about conflicts of interest, Rodman notes that he also won't have to fill out daily time records in order to bill his clients.

“This seems like it will be more interesting, more fun, more freedom, more flexibility,” he says.