Mr. Chee said he timed his retirement to coincide with the pending birth of his first grandchild, who was due in September, 2008. Those plans changed when he got a call in May, 2008, from Beijing. The caller was Gao Xiqing, a senior Chinese banking and regulatory official, who months earlier had been appointed vice-chairman and president of CIC.
The two men had never spoken before, but Mr. Gao had learned of Mr. Chee's reputation and wanted to hire him immediately as his adviser to help navigate investment pitches that were being thrown at a giant new fund born during a credit crunch.
"They were being bombarded with pitches," Mr. Chee said. "Everyone wanted to be in China. Everyone wanted a relationship with China and CIC was seen as a door in."
Everyone, that is, except Mr. Chee, who initially hesitated to join CIC in Beijing because of his new grandchild.
"I wanted to be here," he says, reaching into his pocket to pull out a photo of his beaming granddaughter, now 2.
The one-year-old CIC fund was willing to wait for the new grandfather. In October, 2008, Mr. Chee left his family behind and moved into temporary quarters in Beijing to help launch China's largest investment fund. In the end, the opportunity was just too difficult to turn down.
"Not many people get to be part of a $200-billion startup."
Lots of folks have pitched investment proposals at Felix Chee, but few understand what the sovereign fund is looking for. Some arrive with thick deal books stuffed with investment proposals "hoping that something will stick," he said. Others come with problems they want to solve with China Investment Corp.'s money.
So far, CIC has made only two major public investments in Canadian companies, Teck Resources Ltd. and Penn West Petroleum Ltd. Its biggest North American investments have been a $3-billion (U.S.) minority stake in Blackstone Group and a $5-billion purchase of a 9.9-per-cent stake in Morgan Stanley. Those U.S. investments ignited criticism in China that the fund was making a risky bet on troubled Wall Street. That opposition, Mr. Chee said, has put enormous pressure on CIC's managers.
Before you pay a visit to CIC's Toronto office, consider what Mr. Chee is looking for: "If I can check the following three boxes, there is a pretty good chance I am going to make an investment."
1. The investment should have the potential for a decent return.
2. There should be a China component to the transaction so that the deal provides some benefit to businesses or professionals back home. Teck fits this bill because it sells a share of its minerals to China.
3. The transaction should be structured in a way that enhances outsiders' perceptions of China.
Born and raised in Singapore, where his grandmother ran a girls' school. His family lived at the school for his first six years. Early memories include chasing windup toys down long hallways at the school.
Lives with his wife Margaret in Oakville, Ont. They have one adult daughter and a two-year-old granddaughter. Mr. Chee is 64 years old.
Son of an auto service shop owner, he has had a life-long passion for cars. In his spare time, he drives a limited edition BMW Z-series roadster, the same make featured in two James Bond movies. He has a cottage in the Kawartha Lakes region.
Bachelor of technology, industrial engineering, Loughborough University, England.
Master of Science, Imperial College, London.
MBA, York University, Toronto, Ontario.
1975-1993: Ontario Hydro, various positions, culminating in senior vice-president, financial.
1993-2001: Treasurer and chief investment officer, Manulife Financial Corp.
2001-2008: Various posts including chief financial officer, University of Toronto, and CEO of its asset management arm, UTAM.
2008-2011: Adviser to China Investment Corp. president.
Since 2011: Chief representative of CIC Toronto office.
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