Robert J. Parra, fondly called Bob by his peers and friends, went home peacefully on Saturday, July 11, at Fernandina Beach, Florida after a brave battle with cancer which had become very aggressive in the past few months. He was 80.
But who is Robert J. Parra and why are we mourning the death this man from a faraway land and paying tribute to his memory in Bangladesh?
The Government of Bangladesh opened infrastructure development to the private sector in the early nineties. Private Sector Power Generation policy was issued in 1996. The Government created infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) in 1997. The intent was to attract private capital to infrastructure financing. Globally, private participation in infrastructure financing was achieved through a technique known as project finance - an arcane concept unknown even to most of the Bankers in Bangladesh at that time. Capital financing in those days was limited to lending based on the corporate balance sheet.
IDCOL was a new institution back then, headed by a career civil servant with a background in Economics, not in Finance; and had a few fresh Business, Law, and Accounting graduates. The World Bank supported IDCOL by providing Investment Advisory Support. Under the support program, Robert J. Parra came to Bangladesh as the Resident Advisor of IDCOL. He was an expert of global reputation and stature in Project Finance, especially for the development of large and complex infrastructure projects. He was with IDCOL from 2000 to 2003, during which time, IDCOL was implementing the Private Sector Infrastructure Development Project of the Government, funded by the World Bank.
A Mechanical Engineer by training, Bob was a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and Georgetown University. But he also loved International Economics, Political Science, and Finance as areas of his professional focus. Bob started his career with Citicorp and Citibank N.V. and worked for them in various positions in various locations in the US and England till 1982. He worked, throughout his extensive 50-year career, for multiple clients in prime international bilateral, multilateral, and national development organizations in 34 different countries in six continents!
Bob played a catalytic role in the early days of IDCOL, leading its Project Finance journey from the front. He explained the concept of project finance to the staff of IDCOL that it was a cash flow based financing achieved through the creation of Special Project Vehicle (SPV), without recourse to sponsors' balance sheet. He also explained that it involved the allocation of risks through contracts among project participants such as sponsor, contractors, government etc. He also explained that it involved financial modelling for making investment and lending decisions. He started two courses on Project Finance and Financial Modeling that were made open to all local bankers and legal professionals, to address the existing knowledge gap in the country. IDCOL continues to offer these courses today with 25 and 20 courses on Project Finance and Financial Modeling respectively offered so far. Bob, through hands-on training and mentoring, groomed the very first generation of project finance professionals of Bangladesh. In the razzmatazz of corporate world, Bob was able to ignite a desire among many young professionals to reach a level on par with global standard - that explains why many of today's leading project finance experts of the country find their root back to Bob's unwavering devotion to develop this skill-set in the early 2000s. Bob also developed Project Appraisal Manuals, Financial Models, and various tools for conducting due diligence on large projects for financing. He also co-authored a highly successful and acclaimed book "Financing Large Projects" with M. Fouzul Kabir Khan.
Under his technical guidance, IDCOL participated in the negotiations of $300 million financing facility for 450 MW Meghnaghat Power Plant with AES Corporation, Asian Development Bank, Deutsche Bank, and other commercial lenders. He insisted on taking IDCOL's young staff to the negotiations held in Singapore to train them. He, along with Legal Counsel Joseph Bevash of Latham & Watkins, helped IDCOL secure its interest as a subordinated lender in this landmark transaction that received Euromoney Award.
An amazingly amiable person with outstanding teaching skills, Bob possessed incredible love for his colleagues. At IDCOL, the age difference between him and other staff was between 10 to 40 years! He mentored one and all. Many of his young colleagues attributed the success in their later professional career to Bob's mentoring.
Bob will be missed dearly and remembered fondly by all his colleagues and acquaintances. He had immense love for Bangladesh. He visited the country many times after he departed from IDCOL.
He worked as an international consultant for Keystone from 2015-2018 on "Monitoring and Assessment, Advisory, and Reporting of Off-grid Projects under JICA-REDP" project. Once again, he trained and mentored the Keystone staff. Young female staff at Keystone, after hearing the news of his death, lamented, "He promised to take me to dinner next time he was here. He was like a friend to me, despite our huge age gap. How badly I will miss him." Such was his appeal among the young professionals. In the year 2018, when requested by BIFFL to share his thoughts on the role and future of Public-Private Partnership in Infrastructure Development in Bangladesh, Bob happily obliged.
Bob was a quiet person and always avoided the limelight. Even after his illness, he was always punctual with his deliverables. He was an outstanding writer, and the Rolls Royce of his profession, anyone working with him will vouch for it. Of the scores of consultants we have met in our professional lives, no one comes close to him.
Bangladesh has benefitted greatly from his service. The burgeoning Project Finance professional community in Bangladesh is a tribute to him. We believe that even after his demise, Bob will continue to be a beacon of light in the field of Project Finance through his scholarly work and the education that he was able to inculcate among many professionals in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. Therefore, we will not mourn Bob's death but celebrate his life!
Bob was lucky to have been able to spend his last days at home with his dear wife Martha and the children. We express our sincere condolences to the bereft family of Bob and wish him a good rest in peace in the life hereafter!
Muhammad Fouzul Kabir Khan was former Power Secretary and CEO of IDCOL, S.M.Formanul Islam was former CEO of BIFFL, S.M. Monirul Islam is Deputy CEO, IDCOL, Fida Hasan Rana is Senior Infrastructure Finance Specialist at the World Bank, Washington D.C., Syed A K Rahat Jaman Sohel is Executive Director of Summit Corporation Limited, Rubiya Binta Mustafiz is a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Anik Islam is graduate research assistant at University of Ottawa, Canada. The authors are former colleagues of Robert J Parra.