Reggie Imamura, Our Champion

As if the structured finance industry did not have enough problems in the Winter of 2013, with the financial crisis still fresh and the Dodd-Frank reforms beginning to take hold, a different set of problems began to spill out into the open from an unexpected source. The industry’s own trade association – the organization established to provide industry leadership, best practices and a bridge to policymakers – began to unravel.

In response, a group of eight senior leaders from the industry – the Path Forward Committee – began to address the situation. After weeks of investigation, negotiation, and discussion, this group came to the conclusion that the situation could not be salvaged, and the decision was made to start fresh with a new organization.

All of the members of that group were, at the time, terrified at the prospect of failure. To try, and to fail, would have been a very damaging result, demonstrating to the broader business community and to Washington that the structured finance industry was in disarray and could not govern itself.

One member of that group recalls an incident during those days when he was speaking with another group member, Reggie Imamura of PNC Bank. Reggie stated simply that “failure is not an option here”.

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On the morning of February 29th, SFIG Executive Director Richard Johns announced at SFIG’s 2016 Vegas conference, attended by over 6,000 delegates and the largest capital markets conference ever held, that Reggie Imamura, SFIG’s first Chairman, had died during the night.

Failure, in fact, may very well have been an option, if not a likelihood, but it was not the result. Although the efforts of many turned what was a risky course of action into a success, the efforts of Reggie Imamura in many ways stand alone.

It has been said of Lyndon Johnson that he believed that if you try hard enough – if you do absolutely everything you can to accomplish your goal – you will succeed. Reggie Imamura was cut from the same cloth.

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When Reggie was into something, he was all in; his powers of self-discipline were remarkable. He had a passion for skiing, which translated into an idea that, in retirement, he would become a ski instructor. This led him to procure a ski instructor’s manual to take with him on ski vacations, turning every vacation into a step towards reaching that goal – and that, as far as he was concerned, only added to the fun.

It was the same with his other great athletic passion, sailing. Yes, it was relaxing, but a large part of the satisfaction came from his desire to master it.

An arguable exception to Reggie’s self-discipline may have been his driving habits. As driving instructor to his younger brother and daughters, he preached the value of defensive driving. However, anyone who was ever a passenger in the car with Reggie at the wheel would find that “do as I say, not as I do” held true when it came to Reggie’s personal driving style.

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Coping with difficult situations was a specialty of Reggie’s. Among these situations was managing PNC’s asset-backed exposures following the financial crisis. He piloted the wind down of all positions in PNC’s ABCP conduit, Market Street Funding, incurring in the process not a dollar of loss, not even a dollar of impairment. He was especially proud of what his team accomplished with PNC’s CLO book.

When, as member of the Path Forward Committee, he reluctantly realized that the industry needed to take its advocacy organization in a different direction, he became passionate about “getting it right”, and he turned to it with the same energy and focus he brought to Market Street.

Determined that the new organization be comprised “not just of a bunch of investment banks”, he made investor acceptance his primary goal. He didn’t just call the principal investors – he visited many of them personally. And he did the same with other categories of members. And in April and May of 2013, it all started to come together.

As he became more involved with the effort to establish SFIG, it became apparent to the core members of the team that he was the right guy to serve as the initial Chairman, which in some ways was an unfamiliar role for Reggie. Those who knew him best refer to him as being by nature a “behind the scenes guy”, the kind of guy who would rather just get the job done, and not feel the need to be the center of attention. So, in some ways, serving in a publicly visible role as SFIG Chairman would not be a natural thing for Reggie to have done. But he saw that he needed to do it, and he did it.

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In addition to not wanting to be the center of attention, Reggie had a life-long aversion to appearing needy, a trait which kept him upbeat and focused throughout his illness. This characteristic was demonstrated early on, when an ill-fated attempt as a boy to build a backyard treehouse with his brother led to two broken arms. It was a great indignity for Reggie to have to rely on his little brother to help feed him during his recovery.

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His last public SFIG appearance was at the SFIG Board Dinner and the following Holiday Dinner in New York on December 9, 2015. He announced his illness to the Board during the meeting.

A “sushi hound”, he had hoped to visit that day with some of the Board members at his favorite spot, Sushi Yasuda on 43rd Street, but time ran out, and it didn’t happen.

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In January of 1986, at an undergraduate party of Chapel Hill, he was told by a friend to “come over here – this girl is dying to meet you!”. He came over and responded “I have been dying to meet her too.”

Reggie and Lisa were together as a couple since that night. They married in 1988. Once he made up his mind about something, he stayed with it. They have two daughters, Natalie and Sophie.

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In December, when he realized how sick he was, he began to write thoughts to his daughters in a journal. At Reggie’s memorial service, his daughter Sophie shared with the group one of those journal messages from Reggie:

I appreciate how this is a difficult time in general – elections, constant political battles and all these health challenges. It is so easy to be overwhelmed with cynicism and for people to feel argumentative and frustrated that no one is respectful to listen, discuss points (vs. sound-bites).

The one point of advice that I feel strongly needs to be raised, is the need to manage your reaction to what people say. It can be easy to roll your eyes or give personal/facial/body gestures immediately. People will notice and remember facial/body gestures. If people believe your reactions reflect dismissal of their view, you will have a hard time winning them over. If, on the other hand, they think they can explain their position to you it will lay a solid foundation for your reputation and relationships. You have so much to offer people in the years to come. Your exceptional communication skills (writing/composition) will provide a powerful platform for you to make a difference, increase awareness, and direct/influence how people think.

At the reception following the memorial service, some of his friends remarked that Reggie’s message to his daughters was equally relevant to the industry in which he spent his working life. It was suggested that too often, perhaps, we, whether issuer, investor, banker, lawyer, rating agency, regulator, whatever, can dig into our positions, and act dismissive to the others – often to the detriment of the industry, if not to the economy.

One person even thought that Reggie’s message would make a fine mission statement for SFIG.

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Our champion has brought us a long way from the Winter of 2013. Perhaps he can continue to guide us as our “behind the scenes guy” and continue to “make a difference, increase awareness and direct/influence” how we think.

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