You were born and raised in Kenya, so how did you end up at Swansea University?

My attendance at Swansea University in some ways can be characterized as divine serendipity because I never applied to Swansea. Kenya House in London offered me a choice between Aberystwyth and Swansea. Following research via Encyclopedia Britannica and difficulty pronouncing the former, the choice became simple. Turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Three of the best years of my life.

What has stuck with you from your time in Swansea?

Apart from learning how to iron a shirt by Raj Barchha in digs, I was introduced to classical music by Suzanna via the Music Society. Listening to Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky on 33rpm records for a complete neophyte was boring and not my idea of a date…but the music stayed in my head even if the date faded. Now I am on the Advisory Board of the Bozeman Symphony, deriving much pleasure. I decidedly did not take to the Welsh lava bread and have avoided it ever since.

Moving to Sibley Hall in the second term of my freshman year opened a whole new world to me. Formal dinners in gowns and a diverse new group of friends with long coffee chats, learning bridge and chess till all hours.

"Among the enduring aspects of my time at Swansea are the friendships developed which continue to this day."

Among the enduring aspects of my time at Swansea are the friendships developed which continue to this day. Apart from the bridge gang, Sibley and Economics classmates I still maintain ties and periodic exchanges with several overseas students from many parts of the world. Much bonding took place during my tenure as Chairman of the Overseas Students' Society, but even earlier when Bill Coote from Canada and I teamed up to reach the final of the College debates competition.

Among my most memorable characters from whom I gained enormously were Swansea residents Len and Marion Goss. Len was a reporter for South Wales Evening Post and Marion a chiropodist. They took an active interest in the University, particularly in overseas students. They opened their home every Sunday evening to overseas students for chats and refreshments and to meet each other and other locals. They became close friends, mentors, and my local family.

On the somewhat darker side, I was involved in a scuffle with the College doctor over parking, and the matter was reported to the Principal. Also, during Rag Week I joined the Sibley boys to carry out a panty raid on the Nursing College residence, which got us lined up before the Chief of Police and the Nursing College Principal…we were suitably chastised with threat of expulsion and a few days in the lock up!

Sal Lanlani from his time at Swansea University.

Did your time in university influence your career?

Just about graduation time, Professor Dennis Lees asked about my future plans, which was to take up a job with Albright & Wilson after a visit to see my family. My intention then was to become a chartered accountant after some industry experience. Professor Lees was adamant that I should abandon this plan and instead pursue further studies in applied economics.

Given the midyear timing, the prospects for applying, admission, finance and logistics were daunting and virtually insurmountable - notwithstanding my immense interest in Chicago style economics and the strong encouraging push from Professor Lees.

Unbeknownst to me, he broached the idea of my admission directly with the University of Chicago, where he had been a visiting professor. He then advised me that the University of Chicago would waive the entrance requirements and offer financial assistance starting the Fall Quarter. I was in total disbelief and consulted my family who offered to also help - sternly advising that I would be a fool to decline this opportunity. Once again, the invisible hand guiding my future.

Chicago opened a whole new world to me, not just in economics but also in trade, commerce, finance and international business. Meeting industry leaders, fellow students, many with business experience, and witnessing financial and commodities markets first-hand opened new horizons.

One Saturday in my second year, the School Placement Director called to suggest I meet with a visiting representative from Bank of America. I had not considered a west coast bank for a career but enjoyed my meeting enormously - which was followed up with an invitation to San Francisco to meet other executives for mutual assessment. Bank of America was embarking on rapid international expansion and was seeking candidates with matching interest. I loved the people and the city, and joined Bank of America after receiving my MBA.

"I never planned Swansea, Chicago or Bank of America. Someone was creating my path forward."

I never planned Swansea, Chicago or Bank of America. Someone was creating my path forward.

After a six-month rotation through the various departments under a management training program to get a bird’s eye view of bank operations, I was assigned to the Canadian desk to work on leasing new jumbo aircraft to Canadian airlines. This was followed by credit training working on loans originating in Asia. Two years later I was in the Singapore Regional Office in charge of all loans above branch manager limits in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

Next, I was sent to Kuala Lumpur as Senior Lending Officer and later, Acting Manager. As part of my work permit, I was required to teach banking to the staff of local banks and the Central bank. The interesting experience here was the restructuring of problem loans and expanding relationships with local and international businesses.

The next assignment was as a Project Finance Head in Asia, based in Manila, Philippines. Working with tech and mining engineers, I led the financing of several gold and copper mines, as well as manufacturing and textile businesses. Among my proud accomplishments was the introduction of local Asian business enterprises to global capital markets, as well as assisting the Philippine Central Bank with structuring foreign exchange swap facilities.

In late 1976, I headed a team of professionals based in New York City, who oversaw ship and marine transportation financing - including offshore oil drilling rigs, supply vessels, and inland water transportation. There was a local and international element to this job, in addition to extensive government and regulatory interface. At seven years, this was the longest stint which flew by with the fun and excitement in New York City, plus much domestic and international travel. Among my memorable experiences is the financing of multiple ships for an oil major at a UK shipyard under the auspices of the UK government; leading to the first-ever cross-border double-dip leveraged lease transaction…a valuable lesson in trying to blend political imperatives with business necessity.

"The daily interaction with corporations, governments, industrialists, competitors involving multiple cultures, philosophies, languages and social life assured there was never a dull day."

My next assignment saw me in Hong Kong as Asia-wide Head of Capital Markets for Bank of America, covering a vast region from Japan to India and down to Australia and New Zealand, leading a team of 53 professionals. This was one of the most challenging, competitive, successful and enjoyable professional and personal experiences of my career. The daily interaction with corporations, governments, industrialists, competitors involving multiple cultures, philosophies, languages and social life assured there was never a dull day.

The next move was to London as Executive Director of Bank of America International Limited, a merchant and investment banking arm. After a year I left the organization to start my own investment and financial boutique based in London. Following a short-lived joint venture with American Express, I branched out alone once more in 1987 and formed Sandown Capital Corporation. This entity was involved mostly in Interest and currency swaps. as well as securitization covering mid-market US corporations which did not have ready or direct access to the London capital market and several UK entities. A series of significant and pioneering transactions propelled and transformed Sandown Capital into a private equity business, which became the mainstay of its business through the 1990s to 2018. Sandown also has been involved in equipment leasing business with the main focus relating to the outside broadcast of professional sports - golf, cricket, tennis etc.

Family imperatives necessitated moving Sandown's head office to the US in 2002, while continuing the UK operations. Although the business was successful and thriving, the passage of time and extensive travel requirements and my age, led to a decision to wind the business down over the past few years.

You’ve lived all over the world and travelled extensively throughout your career. Where has been your favourite place to live?

I have loved every country and every place I have lived, so it is hard to pick. High on my list would be Manila, Philippines because of the food, people, countryside and the professional aspects of work, closely followed by Hong Kong and London.

Salim Lalani during a recent trip to Swansea University.

Now your various businesses and investment holdings are being slowly wound up and sold, what is next for you?

Currently, I am edging into retirement but staying active and busy with personal holdings and educational, humanitarian and arts-related philanthropy. I sit on the Advisory boards of Montana State University, the Bozeman Symphony, and the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts, as well as personal business holding companies.

"The most rewarding aspect of my current work is helping the younger generation obtain educational access through providing scholarships and mentoring." 

The most rewarding aspect of my current work is helping the younger generation obtain educational access through providing scholarships and mentoring. A large part of that involves the education, particularly of women, in the developing world (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, etc) as well as selectively in the USA and UK. Together with my wife, we are also very involved in projects to prevent child slavery and human trafficking.

Another very interesting and rewarding aspect of my current life is helping budding entrepreneurs and small businesses through mentoring and provision of capital to start up or grow the business. One success story is a micro-brewery investment where the production is being doubled to meet demand.

My biggest achievements so far have to be the number of pioneering financings in the banking jobs and setting up and building my own business. The biggest challenge was undoubtedly the solo start-up undertaking of own business, Sandown Capital, in a competitive London market.

Outside of work I am passionate about fishing, cricket and American football in addition to the pursuit of Equality of Opportunity in education and healthcare for all.

I would like to continue my philanthropic and educational and business seeding endeavors while enjoying sports and travel around the world.