Jasit Bhattal is a hard man to pin down. Several months after initial contact, the Lehman Brothers Asia chairman had 40 minutes to spare and was already late for another meeting half way through. The message, however, came across loud and clear. Mr Bhattal likes to take a personal approach to the business. If that means travelling four days out of seven, then that is what he will do. Not a bad character trait for an investment banker. In a highly competitive industry, with its constantly shifting market horizons and regular staff defections, an investment bank needs to - at least - portray it has an advantage over its peers. Which at one stage last year in the region, Lehman clearly did. Now, however, other United States bankers have caught up. Which brings this story to the ever-present Internet. At the end of last year, Lehman Brothers Asia had captured 85 per cent of the market's Internet deals. It had a first mover advantage in Asia that the likes of Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley did not. However by early this year, most of its competitors also had lucrative Internet deals in the pipeline. Then the dotcom bubble burst in April and with it the guaranteed fervour for new listings seen when Lehman brought Hong Kong's Chinadotcom and Singapore's Pacific Internet to market. Still, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter managed to push out the Sina.com debut on April 13. Goldman Sachs handled the sale in April of Asiacontent.com, a developer of Asian Web sites for CNET and MTV Networks. Only last week, Merrill Lynch managed to snare the mainland's second-most popular Chinese-language portal Netease.com. Meanwhile, earlier in the year, Lehman had lost some key analysts and banking executives to Internet start-ups. 'I think it was the first quarter of this year that was the absolute apex of what was going on in the Internet arena,' Mr Bhattal said of the hype before the downturn in the sector. 'It was a global phenomena and we knew we were going to be under pressure from departures. But I think one of the hallmarks of an investment bank is to be able to rehire and regroup.' Mr Bhattal said the company has since beefed up its Internet research and banking teams by 50 per cent since the beginning of the year. And he sees the door swinging his way again. 'There's been some people who have shown a lot of interest in coming back to investment banking,' he said. 'I would say one out of every three who left and I think there will be more.' One of the original Internet analysts in Asia, Ravi Sarathy, honed his skills in the area at Lehman before taking off on his own to start an Internet enabling company called iReality. Losses can produce gains, however. 'We have a preferred client relationship with iReality,' Mr Bhattal said - that is, the firm, an Internet investor as well, could end up bringing deals to Lehman's door. Two years ago, a group of Lehman executives got together in New York for a 'spirited debate' about the Internet sector in Asia and how to tackle it. 'We said, this was something we wanted to target,' Mr Bhattal said. 'And that's how we got the Chinadotcoms and the Pacific Internets. 'There was the first mover advantage and it would be hard to maintain the market share that we had. 'But right now, we have more people in the technology, media and telecom (TMT) sector than we've ever had in Asia . . . I think that we'll be without a doubt one of the dominant players in TMT. 'We're tactically very well positioned. The clients with which we've done deals have performed well . . . and I think Japan will be a huge focus.' Lehman hopes to be a dominant player in Japan. In the last year in particular Mr Bhattal has spent the majority of his travelling time in Tokyo. 'I'm almost sure that within three years, we'll be a force in Japan,' he said. The challenges continue. Mr Bhattal envisions Lehman to be increasingly active on the private equity side. 'I think we will come to be the dominant player in Korea and Thailand . . . and Indonesia [in private equity],' he said. In a nutshell, Lehman has a very concentrated and focused strategy. Not unlike Mr Bhattal himself. A Rhodes Scholar and Oxford University graduate, Mr Bhattal worked for Merrill Lynch in London and New York before joining Lehman almost eight years ago. He arrived in Asia in 1993 and was named chairman of Lehman Brothers Asia in June last year on the departure of Dan Tyree. While Mr Tyree had an air of old-style conservatism Mr Bhattal appeared casual with an open-necked shirt and a next-generation enthusiasm. 'I think Dan was one of the best bankers that I worked with,' Mr Bhattal said. But the contrast, Mr Bhattal explains, is that he has a passion for leading the charge personally. 'The difference since I've been chairman is the sheer access to decision makers has improved considerably,' he said. 'If I have to go and see the finance minister in Thailand, it hasn't been very difficult. I've made a concerted effort to spend a lot of time with senior government officials.' Considering his schedule, it comes as no surprise Mr Bhattal enjoys his job. 'The difference between a great investment bank and the also-rans is that they have to have a passion for the business and it needs to come across,' he said. And to thrive on competition, obviously. 'The great thing about investment banking is that there's no second best,' he concluded.