At the presidential palace in Hanoi in November, Ray Washburne, left, and President Donald Trump helped present the president of Vietnam with a letter-of-intent in connection with a new LNG plant near Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo courtesy of OPIC)


CEO Ray Washburne Says OPIC is ‘Open for Business’

The North Texas native says the government's Overseas Private Investment Corp. has 'a lot of capital' to help U.S. companies invest in emerging markets.

In Washington, D.C., it’s not unusual for his daily schedule to include back-to-back appointments with ambassadors, senators, and governors from 7:30 a.m. on. But Monday morning in Dallas, Ray W. Washburne, the local businessman who’s now president and CEO of the U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corp., had a little time before appearing at a downtown event for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. So the tall, lanky North Texas native and SMU grad sat back in a conference room at the Magnolia Hotel on Commerce Street, recalling the whirlwind of activity he’s experienced since joining the Trump administration.

“The first six months were just getting my arms around” OPIC, Washburne said. “The next phase is letting people know who we are,” including plenty of overseas visits and talking to American companies. Has he been getting a good response? I asked. “Hey,” Washburne cracked, referring to OPIC: “I’m money!”

A former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, the OPIC chief executive sits atop a 300-employee agency whose purpose is helping American businesses invest in emerging markets. OPIC has active projects in 90 countries, a $23.2 billion global portfolio, and, in 2017, racked up new commitments totaling $3.8 billion. It also generated $262 million toward deficit reduction last year, up from $239 million in 2016. Last year was the 40th straight year it’s operated at no net cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Washburne said he’s been “getting to travel” a lot lately—to Vietnam late last year, for example, in connection with a $3.5 billion, OPIC-supported LNG plant that will go up near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The plant, to be built by Virginia-based AES, will provide about 5 percent of Vietnam’s power generating capacity. Washburne also recently closed a $250 million political risk insurance contract for a nuclear fuel storage facility in Ukraine—a first for that country, he said. Holtec International, a New Jersey company, will supply equipment and training for the project over a period of five years.

Political risk insurance is one of the three ways OPIC supports development, Washburne said. The other two are financing—with direct loans and guarantees of up to $250 million—and support for investment funds via structured debt financing for emerging-market private equity funds.

Washburne’s whirlwind schedule is somewhat ironic, given the fact that President Trump’s first budget blueprint called for OPIC to be wound down. But that’s not going to happen, the CEO said—in fact, OPIC is likely to become more influential in the future. The president’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget proposes consolidating the development finance functions of OPIC and USAID’s Development Credit Authority, creating a more modern development finance institution that will bolster national security. The proposal, which Congress will have to okay, “strengthens OPIC,” Washburne said. “We will be the surviving entity.”

Just now, he went on, he’s preparing to propose Fred Perpall, CEO of the Dallas-based Beck Group, as a private-sector member of OPIC’s board of directors. And the organization’s about to launch a $350 million commitment toward a hoped-for $1 billion “women’s initiative.”

Before leaving for the Global Leadership event, Washburne couldn’t help making a sales pitch to the North Texas business community. OPIC “is important for Dallas-Fort Worth, because companies here want to do business” overseas, but sometimes that’s “risky,” he said, adding,”We can help with that. We’re open for business, and we’ve got a lot of capital for everything from infrastructure projects” in Southeast Asia to cattle feedlots in Ethiopia.

Money, indeed.