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Obituary: David Pepper, 1968-2019 — Loan market mourns the ‘King of Turkey’

David Pepper 230 x 150
By Mariam Meskin, Silas Brown
03 Dec 2019

Polite, sincere, with a swift wit, David Pepper had a huge presence in Europe's syndicated loan market.

The head of loan capital markets in EMEA at Bank of America died aged 51 on November 13 after battling a serious illness.

“He was a gentleman,” said Jeff Tannenbaum, head of EMEA debt capital markets and leveraged finance at BofA, to whom Pepper reported. “When you work in investment banking, which is intense, and people are under immense time pressure, you never felt you were under any time constraint with David.”

Pepper made his name in the loan market at WestLB, where he specialised in borrowers from central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, before he moved to Bank of America Merrill Lynch in 2011.

At WestLB, he quickly became head of the CEEMEA syndicate team. “It was very impressive how he continued to crack on and win mandates for West LB — in spite of its well publicised problems in the mid to late noughties — which were largely achieved on the back of his knowledge, drive and experience of the markets,” said Société Générale's head of loan sales Richard Hill, a friend who worked with Pepper at WestLB for the best part of a decade.

Pepper was particularly known for his work in Turkey. According to colleagues at both BofA and WestLB, he was lauded by many of his clients as the ‘King of Turkey’, for his detailed understanding of the ins and outs of that market.

"Never go toe to toe with David on Turkey," said a loans banker from a rival bank.

When Pepper left WestLB for BofA Merrill, emerging markets was his initial focus, but his talent was recognised and, as he rose to become co-head of loan capital markets in 2015, his brief became broader.

“He was like a successful Don Quixote,” said Damien Orban, Pepper’s right hand man on the loans desk. “He had incredible market knowledge and depth of understanding for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”

BofA was never close to the top 10 banks in EMEA loans before Pepper joined. But since he became co-head of the business, BofA has come sixth in 2017 and fourth in 2019, according to Dealogic.

“From the outside, he seemed to successfully grow and transform the loan syndicate part of Bank of America’s business during his time there,” said Hill.

But it was not just Pepper's professional skills and success that other loan market participants admired. His open and generous character also marked him out.

“What I found particularly impressive was that David was not a natural extrovert, but he knew his market incredibly well and he had a dry sense of humour that drew people to him,” said Hill.

Countless bankers owed their careers to Pepper opening the door for them, he added.

Colleagues from his own, and rival, firms say it never mattered to Pepper whether you were his junior or his boss — he would always take care to offer you his time.

Fierce competition is common among major investment banks in the loan market. You need not look far to find aggression: but certainly there was none at Pepper’s desk.

He had a particularly witty relationship with journalists. BofA has strict guidance about what its bankers may and may not say to journalists, and David would largely stick to the institution’s script of talking about themes while never straying into what he was working on.

Journalists had to employ every trick in the book to coax anything specific out of him. He was shrewd enough to sidestep any wile, and reporters rarely ended conversations with much more specific information than they started with. But his parries were so polite and humorous that he was often the first person to approach, as reporters would always feel a little more motivated to get to the story after a Pepper put-down.

Pepper had been seriously ill for a year but worked from home in bursts until September. However, in October his health took a critical turn.

His funeral, held last Friday close to his home in Sevenoaks, was very well attended by loan bankers, lawyers and the long list of borrowers Pepper had done business with.

BofA has received more than 100 letters and emails from clients and other loan bankers on the street, offering their condolences. “This just shows how important he was to the market and how many people across the industry, including competitors, clients and lawyers, cared about him,” said Tannenbaum.

One message from a Turkish client read: “He was a very valued, honest, kind-hearted man. It is an honour to have met him.”

A Turkish bank treasurer wrote: “David has touched generations of Turkish bankers and we feel lucky and privileged to have worked with him, shared his knowledge and experiences throughout the years. Without him, Turkish loan markets would never have evolved into their current shape and his influence on us is ever present. May he rest in peace.”

Pepper is survived by his wife Amanda and daughters Amelia and Zara. They visited BofA’s offices and collected his deal tombstones, which commemorate his work in the loan market.

His family has suggested that anyone wanting to make donations in his memory should do so to the Hospice in the Weald, in appreciation of the care he received there, or follow this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/amanda-pepper1.

We offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

By Mariam Meskin, Silas Brown
03 Dec 2019