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Features - Jan 2009



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Renaissance man

Renaissance man

Montaque Group president and entrepreneur Owen Bethel redefines the traditional portfolio

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2009
January 1, 2009
Vanessa Clarke

It’s a rare accomplishment, being able to combine one’s passions with one’s work routine. Especially when your passions are as diverse as Owen Bethel’s.

Bethel, 52, is president and managing director of The Montaque Group, which consists of Montaque Securities International Ltd (MSI); Montaque Corporate Partners Ltd and Montaque Capital Partners Ltd (jointly referred to as MCP2); Bahamas FilmInvest International Ltd; and fashion arm Mode Îles Ltd. The five sections, each a company in its own right, although diverse in nature have one common thread—redefining client financing.

Established in 1993, MSI was the perfect hybrid for Bethel’s background in law and finance. A graduate of Carleton University, Canada, and the University of London, England, he began his professional career with Credit Suisse in London and Nassau. He went on to become assistant to the executive director at both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, DC, from 1985-1990. The culmination of Bethel’s stints as both a public servant (former executive director of the Bahamas Financial Services Secretariat and the Bahamas Investment Authority 1990-1994) and a private businessman gave him the experience necessary to establish MSI.

“It’s a comprehensive investment and financial services advisory entity,” says Bethel, “that caters to any sole body or group both locally and internationally.” In 2004, its functions and services were divided into two distinct segments. Montaque Capital Partners focused on the actual securities, trading and asset management, while Montaque Corporate Partners dealt with the peripheral aspect of the business including IBC formation, trust management and family office management.

New avenue
It was at that point that the company decided to strike out on new forays into unchartered territory. “At the time I was an advisor for the Bahamas Film Commission,” says Bethel. “Our company performed the treasury functions for the duration of the filming here.” An instinctive entrepreneur, Bethel quickly realized that movie investing could offer a significant business opportunity. After all, The Bahamas has a long history with the movie industry, being the backdrop to dozens of blockbusters including seven of the 21 James Bond movies.

Bethel became involved in the funding of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc’s box office hit Into the Blue and established FilmInvest in 2004. From there, his company gained a reputation as being the most convenient choice for movie projects in The Bahamas, leading to its involvement in the last two sequels of one of Hollywood’s most successful trilogies to date—Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. “We also assisted with two local productions, Maria Govan’s Rain and Kareem Mortimer’s Daybreak,” adds Bethel.

However, the new business was not a traditional fit for The Montaque Group’s existing portfolio and it took some creative thinking to find ways to best organize it.

“What we had decided to do for the local film production was [to start] a mutual fund which would assist in the financing of productions in The Bahamas and elsewhere. But after a significant amount of research with partners in the United States, we decided it would be better, in terms of what we wanted to do, and in terms of attracting investors, [to] create an operational company and not a mutual fund. The initiative then moved towards creating what was called Diversity Entertainment Group, which is the vehicle for the raising and the dispersal of funds for film production.” As the name implies, the company is intended to grow to accommodate not only film but also the broader entertainment industry.

Film future
Unfortunately, not everything has fallen into place with FilmInvest. Its prolonged wrangling with the government over its possible purchase of the Gold Rock Creek Bahamas Film Studios facility on Grand Bahama finally reached a conclusion towards the end of last year with FilmInvest pulling out of the acquisition. The government plan to reduce the available acreage for development at the site from 3,500 acres to reportedly only 120 acres meant the project was no longer financially viable, according to Bethel. Key to the $90-million deal was the prospect of developing a movie theme park, a hotel and expanding the existing facilities. With the government’s enforced limitations the proposed development would be impossible.

Such hold-ups, however, have not tempered Bethel’s enthusiasm for new projects and he has recently added fashion to his raft of achievements.

In November last year The Bahamas was host to the inaugural Islands of the World Fashion Week—an event endorsed by the United Nations Scientific, Education and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Deemed a huge success by all participants, the event showcased the styles of designers from 15 developing countries. World-renowned designers were on hand to not only view the new styles, but also to promote the week’s underlying themes of environment and climate change, the education of youth, HIV/AIDS and poverty alleviation in the islands.

“One thing that struck me was that designers in most countries do not have an avenue for international exposure to market, to buyers and to the media,” says Bethel. “It’s understandable that in the great names you hear, there are very few designers that have made it from the islands and on a broader scale from the developing countries. This is really UNESCO’s emphasis—bringing some value added to the economies within those countries. So I came up with the idea of presenting a showcase for designers from the islands to be able to present their wares to buyers and the media and get some exposure.”

UNESCO bought into the idea and left its implementation in Bethel’s hands. The result became the plank of the Montaque Group known as Mode Îles.

“The idea is really to allow this event to be a catalyst for designers from the islands to be able to showcase their goods and maybe market them. Eventually Mode Îles will look to taking the up-and-coming designers to the next stage of production, manufacturing and marketing and become the agent of the designers on the international market.”

Time to consolidate
But with so many irons in the fire, there is a danger that the group of companies may be overreaching a little. “There is certainly a need to stabilize and consolidate what we’re doing now,” adds Bethel. “There are certain external forces and markets out there that one [always] has to be very cognizant of and respond to. When you speak of the economic and financial markets we’re seeing significant volatility currently, so there’s always a constant attention to making sure there is stability in the core business.”

Bethel hopes that in the near future, the branches of his business become solid entities in their own right and grow further into their respective industries. “I would hope that there is no more diversification for me. In fact, I would welcome a younger person to come on board so I can retire. But certainly I would like to think that there is still growth … in all the industries that we are in.

“We are hopefully writing the blueprint to some degree, so there’s years of potential activity and growth in different directions that all of the entities can move into.”

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