Meet Deal Advisory's Merrill Lee

After training as an aerospace engineer, achieving a doctorate, and even becoming an academic at the University of New South Wales, Dr Merrill Lee turned his love of detail, force, cause, and effect to the world of investment consulting.

While Merrill now heads up RPS’ team of deal advisors across Australia, Asia and the Pacific region, it’s not all billion dollar deals for Merrill.

It’s about solving problems and connecting with people.


We spoke to Merrill about global investment trends, the magic ingredients for deal advisory, and why finding the ‘why’ is vital.

Dr Merrill Lee poses for photo in Sydney CBD. Wearing a blue suit and tie and is smiling at the camera. People in the background walking by are out of focus.
QWhat does the Deal Advisory team do?

In Deal Advisory, our focus is on the investment lifecycle and supporting clients through the journey they take through it. This starts at project origination, moves on to when they are ready to transact, the transition into ownership, optimising and adding value to their portfolio, and at some point divesting assets back to the market.

How do you spend your spare time?

I enjoy the outdoors! A bit of fresh air and sunshine helps clear the mind.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to work with technology – which is why I became an engineer first.

Now that travel is back – destination?

Everywhere! It has been too long.

QWhat projects are you working on and what trends are you seeing?

In the Asia Pacific region, many of our clients are pursuing energy projects right now. Projects range from gas through to renewables - rooftop solar, hydrogen. It’s a big growth area. We’re also supporting a lot of investor clients who are looking to be part of the world’s energy transition (towards renewables).

The strive to decarbonise is strong, but with the traditional dependencies in Europe on energy resources from Russia, many economies are contemplating what that means for their portfolios, and customers.

Lots of organisations would not have considered gas six months ago, but today they are actively exploring it. Energy security and ensuring that security can be maintained means that we have to look at a range of options, so this is a trend that we’re seeing at the moment – clients trying to strike the right balance between energy security while pursuing their energy transition and net zero goals at the same time.   

The other area of growth we are seeing is in the digital space. COVID has accelerated the drive for increased bandwidth, functionality, and being able to communicate across the globe without being there in person. Telco, fibre, data centre projects are the trifecta for many of our clients and the next wave of their investment in infrastructure.

QAs you partner with clients through the investment lifecycle, what processes you are taking them through?

When clients are looking to originate a project, our first job is to provide insights to them. What do we know about the market? What do we know about the asset class? What are the known risks associated with these? These early questions help us to develop the scope for the more detailed due diligence processes that follow.

When we talk to clients, it’s not just about telling them what’s wrong with an asset. It’s about identifying the opportunities associated with it. What will it take to manage the challenges we see? What steps are required to manage the risks and capitalise on the opportunities as they make the transition to ownership? Our team creates a detailed Transition Plan which is the roadmap for navigating all of this.

Once a transaction is complete, the first hundred days sets the scene. We support clients to implement the Transition Plan we’ve created and take the reins of the asset. From there, they might identify challenges that they want us to look at – things that they have observed now that all of the books are open, and they have the keys to the business.

At the very end, when an investment reaches maturity and the client decides it’s now time for someone else to own or operate it, we support them right through the divestment process as well.

QWhat fundamentals are you looking at when completing due diligence?

Every asset has its nuances and understanding how the asset behaves and performs is of vital importance.  Some of the areas we delve down into include the governance, asset management strategy, the design, the integrity and quality of what the client is buying. We also look at the growth trajectory of an asset, and all of the supporting investment that’s required to make that growth real.

This all informs the business plan. It’s good to know what’s going on and what you’re buying, but it’s just as important to know what you’re going to do with it!

Separately, if we are in a competitive auction process, further work is done to develop a compelling strategy to help our clients win.

QWhat’s the magic ingredient for Deal Advisory? What skills or capabilities do you need?

In Deal Advisory, we are really acting as our client’s general practitioner (GP) by understanding the issues that matter, and then acting as an integrator to bring the solution forward. That’s the essence of what we do. We highlight the issues and connect clients with the skills and expertise they need to solve challenges right throughout that investment lifecycle.

And that’s the magic of RPS as well, we have so many skills and capabilities that we can draw on from all over the world – both internally and through our partner subject matter experts. If it is an issue we bring to the table, we will connect clients with the people and solutions they need to turn challenges into opportunities.

QWhat advice would you give to yourself as a young consultant just starting out?

One of the questions I often ask my younger team members is ‘what gives you a sense of purpose? What are you passionate about?’ Understanding why you do what you do is really important, because as a Deal Advisor you have to be there for clients when things get tough.

The business that we work in is really about people. It’s not just about assets or hitting financial close. So, it’s important to know personally why we are doing what you are doing and why we love it.

I get a fundamental kick or enjoyment out of the sense of challenge that my job presents. Being able to help my clients to turn around their assets, enhance the performance of operating teams, or make a positive legacy for the assets they own, that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.

QWhat skills or qualities do the best Deal Advisors have?

Absolute curiosity. Having the ability to discern and cut through the sales pitch. Being able to qualitatively and quantitatively discern what are we buying, or what are we selling…some of that is gained by experience, but you have to have a good sense of intuition. Intuition that’s supported by facts and observation. And lastly perseverance! That’s really important.

Get in touch

Your contact information:

All fields are mandatory *

Get in touch

Your contact information:

All fields are mandatory *