Armand Aponte’s career path has had what he calls “a lot of twists and turns.” He decided on law school late and landed a job at a major firm, only to be laid off in the wake of 9/11. Then, he mastered an emerging niche field and rose to the top of a financial services field that has been anything but stable for the last two decades. The challenges have been strong enough to make anyone falter, but Aponte has a superpower. He’s a bicultural Latino, who grew up learning to be flexible and rely on the values of hard work and education he learned from his parents.
Although raised in New York, Aponte’s father is from Puerto Rico, and his mother comes from Ecuador. “My mix of American and Latino cultures has been the strength of my career, because it made me adaptable,” he says. Aponte adds that exposure to different customs, cultures, people, and languages has helped him navigate changes in his professional circumstances and environments.
Now, as head of legal of Nikko Asset Management Americas, Aponte leads all regional legal matters for a global firm with approximately $200 billion under management. Serving in the generalist role requires him to harness all he’s learned in a long career across all levels of various well-known financial institutions and insurance providers, including Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers, and Voya Investment Management (formerly ING).
When a finance undergraduate at Boston College, Aponte intended to build a career on Wall Street. A third-year business law class set him on a new path. “It opened my eyes to how the law is applied in a business context and shifted my thinking about where I wanted to take myself professionally,” he explains. He made a hard right turn and applied to law school. Soon, Aponte found himself at Fordham University School of Law.
As Aponte’s peers prepared themselves to become litigators and politicians, he retained his interest in business and finance. He took a summer internship at the firm of Morrison Cohen, where he started his career creating SEC documents and completing merger reviews as a corporate associate.
Although he was thriving, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed the landscape at Morrison Cohen, and Aponte fell victim to a series of layoffs. Thankfully, he landed a job at Deutsche Bank, and the move proved to be a fortuitous one. Aponte spent his time negotiating agreements and completing documents its syndicated loan group. Doing so gave him early exposure to business colleagues and processes he would not have otherwise touched.
As the young professional progressed in his career, he was thrown into the newly developing world of financial derivatives. Since the complex instruments were new, they also were lightly regulated. No experts had a deep history with them, and this gave Aponte the unique chance to build expertise in a novel area at a young age. Lehman Brothers came calling, and in 2005, Aponte accepted a leadership role as a derivatives attorney within the organization.
By 2008, Aponte had connected with ING, when the company needed a derivatives lawyer to support an entire block of business for its insurance company and asset management funds. He took a job as their lead attorney supporting a business line worth $1 billion. Three months later, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, and the world was in a global financial crisis.
The months that followed brought the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and its European counterpart EMIR to introduce strict regulations, reduce risk, and bring greater transparency to derivative markets.
The leadership and results Aponte demonstrated caught the attention of Nikko. Although once a derivatives attorney, Aponte moved to his current position in 2016. He now advises on and participates in matters related to registered and unregistered funds, corporate governance, and contract negotiations.
The transition brought many changes and forced Aponte to grow and develop in new ways. While once surrounded by peers, he is now Nikko’s only lawyer in its New York office. He’s developed the ability to integrate himself into the business, establish trust, and demonstrate the value he can bring to a global investment firm.
Aponte is part of a key leadership team determining business objectives and navigating changes in global markets. “I’ve always had a genuine and strong interest in the intersection of business, finance, and law, and that interest helps me bring creative solutions to the challenges and dilemmas we face together,” he says.
In 2017, Nikko made an equity investment into ARK Investment Management and since launched a suite of tech-related investment funds. The fintech, mobility, metaverse, and related funds hold gaming, ecommerce, and other alternative companies that give clients new options. The funds are performing well and have helped Nikko grow its business from a “modest” level to $20 billion in assets under management in the New York office alone.
Three years later, Aponte and his colleagues expanded Nikko’s Americas fund distribution to Canada. Nikko’s business is established to underwrite and place securities throughout our neighbor to the north. Aponte says his team is now completing the process to receive the same approvals in Chile, Peru, and Colombia.
As he reflects on his career so far, Aponte is both proud and fulfilled. He’s weathered various professional challenges and major financial storms. But he’s not content to sit back and relax. Inflation, international conflicts, and other factors have global markets in a delicate place. The veteran general counsel and derivatives expert is preparing for what could be a major financial event coming in 2023.
Armand is a strategic thinker who knows both law and business—an asset to one of Asia’s largest asset managers, Nikko Asset Management. Sharing Armand’s commitment to excellence, Mayer Brown is proud to partner with him and the entire Nikko Asset Management team.