It is a long way from Wall Street to Mongolia but Alexander Molyneux is relishing the challenge. The high-flying investment banker gave up a lucrative job at financial giant Citigroup to helm fledgling mining company SouthGobi Energy Resources, currently exploring the resource-rich country. With investment banks battered by the global financial crisis, many may say Molyneux had jumped ship at the right time. The 34-year-old Australian in April last year relinquished his position as managing director and head of metals and mining investment banking at Citigroup's Asia-Pacific unit, and joined the Toronto-listed junior miner as president. Six months later, he assumed the chief executive position, replacing Vancouver-based Peter Meredith, who became chairman of the board and a non-executive director. The appointment comes as coal exploration and mining firm SouthGobi is preparing for a secondary listing in Hong Kong to raise funds for expansion. Molyneux concedes that the financial crisis that decimated Lehman Brothers and brought other financial institutions to their knees played a substantial role in nudging him to a career change. 'Every night watching Bloomberg or CNBC, you would wonder if your bank was going to go bankrupt that night ... there was a lot of stress and tension,' he says. Even before that, however, Molyneux had been contemplating a career change for a number of years as he thought he had done everything he wanted in investment banking. 'If anything, what the economic environment did was maybe make me more open to doing it one to two years earlier than I would have otherwise,' he says. This month, Molyneux will be using his banker charm to convince would-be investors to buy into the company's growth story. His sales pitch includes: 'SouthGobi could be a US$5 billion to US$10 billion company in a few years' time ... it's a massive and rare opportunity ... it could be the biggest mining company based in Hong Kong.' He has already had some success in recruiting a pre-listing investor. In September, sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp bought a US$250 million debenture that can be converted into shares of the mining company. That amounts to a stake of up to a 25 per cent before taking into account the Hong Kong shares offer. Still, SouthGobi shares' valuation on the Toronto bourse is considered by some analysts as expensive compared to its Chinese coal mining peers, even with its high-growth profile. But Molyneux says SouthGobi's good asset quality means it could grow for many years and has the need for 'a growth-minded investment banker-style manager' who can execute opportunistic acquisitions and accelerate organic growth. The articulate, boyish-looking Molyneux holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Australia's Monash University. A 30-year veteran investment and commercial banker based in Hong Kong describes him as 'very approachable and knowledgeable, a real gentleman'. 'To test whether you are doing a good job or not as a banker, you have to ask whether your clients would want to employ you or not,' Molyneux says. 'You want every client to offer you a job. Then you know you have done a good job for them.' Molyneux's former employer Citigroup is now a sponsor of SouthGobi's upcoming Hong Kong initial public offering. He said a different bank was working on the share offer when he was still at Citigroup, although he was an adviser to SouthGobi's majority shareholder, Ivanhoe Mines, which is controlled by Canadian businessman Robert Friedland. Molyneux says when the company started production in late 2008, it needed a 'larger, more disciplined' corporate structure to handle the fast-expanding mining, sales and administration operations. As a company solely involved in exploration previously, it had a smaller and more entrepreneurial structure. The change meant it needed a chief executive located in Asia to be closer to the mining operation in Mongolia and customers in northern China. Meredith, who is 66 years old, did not want to move to Asia and was looking for a replacement for himself in the region. But the company could not find the right person, even when it enlisted the help of Molyneux, who knows many mining firms and their executives well. 'We just got close enough that they said one day, 'Would you do it?' And I said, 'Yes, sure.' In 20 minutes, we just decided that we'd do it,' Molyneux says of his appointment. Molyneux was itching to implement strategies - something he had not done before - rather than advising companies on them. 'When you are spending so much time talking to companies about their strategy, you start to have really strong ideas about strategy and what's right or wrong in the mining sector,' he said. 'And then you'd start to think, well, wouldn't it be good if I could actually be in a position where I can implement my strategic ideas myself?' Given his lack of experience in managing a mining company, it had not been easy sailing for Molyneux. He had to prove his leadership abilities to fellow managers and subordinates, including the chief financial officer, chief operating officer and other senior managers. All are older than him and have many years of operating and technical experience in the mining industry. Whether they would support Molyneux's push to implement banker-style efficiency in the company was key to the execution of his business plans. Among his many tasks, he had to set up a new management structure to meet the needs of a fast-expanding production and sales operation. Along the way, he had to let go of some staff who would not have made the transition, brought in new blood, promoted others and cut the layers of management from five to three. He hired a friend and former client Gavin May as SouthGobi's chief operating officer. The 49-year-old, a geologist by training, rose to become chief executive of Australia-listed miner Gloucester Coal before joining SouthGobi. Molyneux says his aggressive banker management style and May being the 'stable, mature, technically capable operator' made a perfect combination. His strategy for SouthGobi is to push for a faster ramp-up of production in order to enhance profits earlier. 'If it gets done in a year versus two years, you've pulled forward the value for shareholders,' he said. 'So the trick is to accelerate the growth of the company - that's what the style of my background brings.' Nevertheless, Molyneux admits that managing a team of bankers is entirely different from running a mining business. He says bankers are fairly 'homogenous' even if they come from different countries or have different educational backgrounds, since they are all mostly motivated by money. 'Everybody in investment banking just wants to work hard, focus on a deal and get a good bonus,' he said. But in a mining firm, some are primarily working for money, while others are looking for certain working conditions and professional achievement. 'In banking, you don't need to think about motivating people,' he said. 'Here it is different ... you have to think of so many different things to keep everyone happy,' he said. This means a lot of personal discussions on a daily basis. It will take a few years to see how well Molyneux's team will deliver and how well they can work together to fast-track SouthGobi's expansion. Set up in 2002, SouthGobi runs a mine and holds various exploration licences for coal in southern Mongolia, near the border with China. Analysts forecast that the company will become profitable by next year. Its output, at 1.25 million tonnes last year, is expected to reach eight million tonnes in 2012 and 14 million tonnes in 2015. Meanwhile, Molyneux will inevitably face queries about Mongolia, an emerging market that is fast gaining attention from the global investment community. A new government installed in the middle of last year repealed some mining laws that were unfriendly to overseas investors. Following that, the government struck a US$4.1 billion investment deal in October with SouthGobi's parent Ivanhoe Mines and Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. After years of negotiations, the deal will see the development of what will be Asia's largest copper mining project, Oyu Tolgoi, or Turquoise Hill, in the Gobi desert. But the looming mining boom has brought concerns that infrastructure development in the sparsely populated, landlocked nation will fail to catch up with needs. Corruption is another worry for investors. Molyneux is optimistic, however, saying the Mongolian government is working harder to improve laws, regulations and infrastructure planning than most other countries with similar challenges. 'The prime minister [Sukhbaatar Batbold] is a former entrepreneur. He works from 7am to 7pm on parliamentary issues, and talks to foreign investors from 7pm to 1am. He's a workaholic,' he said. He also says worries about Mongolia's political stability, following riots in 2008 over vote-rigging accusations, were overblown. However, Molyneux says Ulan Bator needs to make decisions soon about how and where it wants the country's development to proceed, including the proposed creation of special economic zones in areas bordering China. The government's decisions would affect infrastructure investment decisions of companies such as SouthGobi, which is considering building a road or railway to the border to connect with the mainland's coal transportation network, he says. One railway connecting the nearest border checkpoint to its mainland markets has been completed, and another will be by this year. Molyneux will no doubt try hard to spread his confidence in SouthGobi to investors, as he claims to have achieved with his fellow staffers. 'I think [my fellow workers] get motivated by seeing how motivated I am. People have to catch the disease - everyone has fun doing what they are doing,' he said. 'There are setbacks, but emotionally we get past it very quickly.'