Project Finance Keeps Babanoury On the Go
Roya Babanoury '92 has been jetting to Europe and Asia structuring project finance deals as an attorney for the Manhattan-based law firm of Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy.
After studying in Italy and France while still an undergraduate, Babanoury was working as a legal assistant at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton when she accepted a post with the firm's Prague office. "I had been working non-stop, so it didn't really hit me what I had agreed to do until I was on the plane on the way to Prague," she said.
During a year there working on a deal to build an international terminal at the Czech airport, she learned about project finance, which structures long-term loans that use the assets of a project as collateral for the lenders and the revenues from the project to repay the loan.
As often is the case in
international business, local customs and quirks had to be mastered
to get the job done. "I learned on the job that if you wanted to
learn cash flow or historical revenues or anything," she said, "you
had to go to the economics department with a bottle of wine or some
kind of offering."
After the year working abroad,
Babanoury returned to the States to attend the University of
Michigan Law School. In the summertime she studied international
law at the Sorbonne in Paris and worked in Washington D.C. at the
International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank
that finances projects in underdeveloped countries.
"I like the idea behind project
finance, that something tangible is produced," she said. "A lot of
times you're privatizing industries and making them more efficient,
or building a road or a bridge or providing electricity to
The head of the global project
finance department approached Babanoury at a cocktail party while
she was a summer associate in 1996. "Do you like to travel?" he
asked her. "And do you have a passport?" In five days she was in
Tokyo working on financing a power plant in Thailand.
After taking the bar exam the following year she was immediately sent to the firm's Singapore office for five months. While there she also traveled on business to Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Bangkok (where the legal team loaded their computers and documents onto motorcycles and into boats to navigate the heavy traffic). In the course of leaving the country to renew her visa periodically, she took a long weekend in Bali and also hung out in Hong Kong during the handover.
"You have to be a real jet-setter, ready to go at any moment," she said. "That's really exciting for me, except for the bacterial infections you pick up along the way."
Babanoury suffered stomach problems for two years after contracting a local virus in the Czech Republic. She also experienced her own version of a Prague spring when, to relieve wisdom tooth pain, a local dentist lodged a metal spring between her gum and tooth (she was told to remove it herself later using a "sharp metal object"). In Singapore, famous for its zealous control of drugs, another dentist was reluctant to provide any pain killer. "I found myself with my tooth being filled by a mobile dentist in the lobby of my building," she said. "I had to beg for Novocain and they still kept it to a minimum."
While stationed at Milbank Tweed's Wall Street headquarters, Babanoury has used her vacation time for trips to North Africa, Turkey, Malta and Iran (she holds an Iranian as well as American passport since her father is from Iran, and she is learning Farsi as her fourth foreign language). She hopes to work again in Asia or in the London office, where they work on more projects in Europe and the Middle East.