NOT LONG AGO, Stuart Mowbray (left in the photo) came to the same realisation that many other people in the investment banking industry did. You are either going to be big, or small. The middle guys, you see, were falling by the wayside. Now, after more than 20 years working largely for what the industry would call mid-sized investment banks, Mr Mowbray, a New Zealander (who really has been more of a nomad for much of his working life), has gone out on his own with the help of partner Suberna Shringla (right in photo). Enter Constellation Resources, an advisory group based in Hong Kong with a focus on Korea, Singapore, China and Hong Kong. The 'boutique' investment bank describes itself as having a specialised focus on a space within the media and communications sector. It is concentrating on technology, but not simply the telecommunications stuff we were so used to hearing about in 1999. By media and communications, Mr Mowbray means such things as publishing, radio and where the sectors converge, such as hybrid broadband over wireless, cable and interactive TV. 'It comes back to the reason why Suberna and I got together. There was a time when people in Asia said they had a TMT [telecoms, media and technology] background within an investment bank, but in a way, that was very superficial. They didn't have the relationships or the insights you need if you're going to provide corporate finance support. If you're going to provide a strategy, then you need people within the industry. I certainly didn't have that, but Suberna did.' Mr Mowbray snared Mr Shringla after meeting him in Korea during the height of the tech boom. The latter was working on a deal as a business development manager for Turner Broadcasting. Mr Shringla has also worked for Disney in the strategic planning area. 'I said to Suberna, come and join us at SG [Securities] and he said, 'I don't have any investment banking experience' and I said, 'Perfect'.' 'It was shifting gears and looking at the same industry, but in a different area,' says Mr Shringla. However, the hi-tech bubble was growing and set to burst. This was late 1999 to early 2000. 'The big investment banks were focusing on TMT and US$500 million placements. The middle-sized investment banks did not have the skills base or the sector knowledge and that left a niche for a boutique [bank]. You're either big, or your niche,' Mr Mowbray says. The concept of going small came to Mr Mowbray when he was with SG. But it wasn't as easy as first thought. 'You can do it, but you're still constrained by the structures of a middle-sized investment bank.' Adds Mr Shringla: 'We wanted to be unencumbered and get close to the clients.' Now Constellation, in its media blurb, ties up the philosophy quite neatly. Most traditional investment banks, the report says, have TMT teams staffed by investment bankers who have 'only a veneer of understanding of the real dynamics of the sector'. But Mr Mowbray says he sought to bring in people with a related background who could come up with ideas. 'There is the practical experience that Suberna and Carleton [the China-based principal] have. That's not reflected in other banks. We're giving the clients the direct benefit of that. 'We have the ability to get in there and analyse the things that they are not focusing on.' Mr Shringla says the firm aims to be 'pro-active with ideas'. As an example he cites radio in China. The demographics in China are coming up to a level where they are more receptive to the concept of broadcast, commercial radio. 'We think there are certain companies that can take advantage of that trend,' says Mr Shringla. Constellation's Carleton Ruthling, based in the mainland, has a frightening amount of qualifications. For one thing, he has a PhD in plasma physics. When Mr Ruthling says 'it's not rocket science', he knows what he's talking about. 'A lot of clients will look for the brand image when it comes to distribution,' Mr Mowbray says. 'When it comes to ideas, they are looking for the quality of the person.' It has been roughly a year since Constellation came about, and the business is involved in on-going transactions with a Korean cable operation, a printing and publishing group and a cable systems integrator in China. But surely, times are tough in the investment banking world. There must be risks that make the founders of such a new company a little nervous. 'For me, . . . I am risk-averse, but if it makes sense, you have to go and find out what it is like. Hong Kong is all about entrepreneurship and it was important to get some ideas out there,' says Mr Shringla. Ultimately, the outsider would suppose, the boutique investment bank is completely independent. No buy or sell recommendations being forced from the top, except that Constellation doesn't do research anyway. 'We don't do research and we don't lend money . . . All we're doing is working on our ideas. We're sitting in the space between management consulting and corporate finance,' says Mr Mowbray. Sure. There are others here doing the same thing. But, says Mr Mowbray, they don't have the combined backgrounds that Constellation does. 'I know a lot of these guys,' Mr Shringla concludes. 'And I haven't seen the steam coming together. Stuart has 28 years of experience behind him.' 'Talk about making me feel old,' says Mr Mowbray. For the record, it's 23 years.