Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, April 1, 2013

Singleton values international experiences

Tony Singleton

Tony Singleton started with a goal and then figured out how to accomplish it.

"My objective was to do international work," says the 1973 alum of the Center for Development, which became part of the La Follette School in 1999 to create its Master of International Public Affairs degree.

His international work could have been with the government, the United Nations or the World Bank, and he would have met his objective, Singleton says, but he ended up going private, spending 20 years with Chase Manhattan Bank in its International Department and Investment Bank. Before retiring in 2010, Singleton spent seven years with Development Alternatives Inc., a private international development company and another five with Finca, a nonprofit microfinance charitable trust. He now guest lectures at New York University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

"The common denominator in my career is always 'international,'" Singleton says. "I've done business in at least 62 countries and on all the continents — except Antarctica. From Scandinavia to Italy, I ran both commodity and equity derivatives programs for Chase while we lived in London, then I moved to New York and did the same for the Western Hemisphere from Canada to Argentina."

Singleton came to Wisconsin after dropping out of his undergraduate program at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, to join the Peace Corps. He went to Morocco for two years, and then returned to Saint Anselm to complete his bachelor's degree in political science.

His experience in Morocco is what prepared him for the Center for Development. "The center required some international experience," Singleton says, "so the Americans in the program were ex-military, or former or current State Department employees, or people who had been in the Peace Corps, like me. Most of the students were foreign, in the middle of their careers."

Going to graduate school with people from around the world was a valuable experience, Singleton notes. He appreciated his friendship with Sam Ogundare, who became the head of the Foreign Exchange Department at the Central Bank of Nigeria after he graduated from the Center for Development in 1972. Other students were from Latin America, elsewhere in Africa and Asia.

Singleton appreciated the opportunity to attend Wisconsin and take advantage of its economics programs. The flexibility of the Center for Development enabled him to take electives. "My class in industrial engineering was one of the best courses I have ever taken," Singleton says. "We studied systematic ways to solve problems, whether on the factory floor or elsewhere. The other elective which was very useful in my career at Chase was a crash course in arcane mathematics."

After completing his master's degree and applying for myriad positions, Singleton was packing up his Madison apartment with one day to departure. "I told my wife I had better plug the phone back in, just in case anyone called," Singleton says. "I turned on the phone and had three job offers, two of which were in Tunisia."

He turned down a State Department position with U.S. Agency for International Development and a position in the Wisconsin governor's office. He was not sure he wanted to go into government, so he chose the Peace Corps staff position and headed to Tunisia. "When I left the Center for Development, I ended up running Peace Corps programs in Tunisia through what was a Foreign Service position," Singleton says.

One accomplishment during his three-and-half years in that position was that he convinced the Tunisian government to pay 100 percent of the costs of the Peace Corps program. "There was so much early attrition with Peace Corps volunteers because the Tunisian government treated volunteers as a free good. Once the government paid 100 percent of the salaries, the government took care to place the volunteers in better jobs where they were needed," Singleton says.

After leaving Peace Corps, Chase Manhattan Bank hired him to work in its international department. "In my mind, it was the best international bank and it was going through a major expansion," Singleton says. "I ended up being part of the Africa-Middle East group in 1977. Chase trained me for 15 months, primarily in banking credit."

The classes Singleton took and the people he met at Wisconsin helped him at Chase, which is now JP Morgan Chase. "The kind of clients I dealt with in developing countries were government-owned entities — airlines, mines, etc.," he says. "The political, policy orientation of the Center for Development helped me to understand how my contacts in the various governments thought."

Halfway through his 20-year tenure at Chase, Singleton changed direction and joined in Chase's development of derivatives, financial products whose value is derived from one or more underlying assets that might include commodities, stocks or currencies. Singleton oversaw a handful of people with a high degree of mathematical and statistical skills who developed equity and commodity derivatives. "What drove me into derivatives was a project I had done at the Center for Development," Singleton says. "At Wisconsin, I became very sensitive to 'terms of trade,' the situation in which developing countries produce basic commodities such as copper or oil without processing them into finished products. They don't do any manufacturing with the commodities. From the 1970s through 2000, the value of all those commodities was declining in real terms: negative terms of trade. My work as a student at the Center for Development helped me figure out how to understand the problem and search for a way to hedge long term price, particularly for oil."

Singleton joined Development Alternatives Inc. in 1998, having been tapped to serve as CEO of Tanzania's largest bank, which was under a management contract with DAI and the largest segment of a World Bank financial restructuring program in Tanzania. He knew from the Peace Corps and his early years at Chase that African banks were poorly managed and that their staff lacked core skills. "Our goal was to turn the bank around and for the Tanzanian government to privatize it," Singleton says. "It had lost $100 million in the years before I arrived, and, in my first year, it posted a profit. I was there for three years, during which time I chaired the Bankers Association, which consisted of 32 banks.

"We also introduced microfinance products which became very successful and were a major policy goal of the Tanzanian government," Singleton says. "The microfinance products provided loans as small as $100 for small scale entrepreneurs who were able to repay the loans and grow their businesses successfully."

Singleton says his opportunities through the Center for Development contributed to his success in Tanzania at helping to turn around a local institution in a developing country and helping its employees do better. "If you think about the Center for Development, that was what the program was about," he says. "It was a dream job. It was not the most lucrative or the most important in a global sense in contrast with my work developing derivatives and other financial products for Chase, but the work was the most fulfilling personally."