How 100 iPads saved Greece $140 billion

May 22, 2012, 11:27 AM UTC

Apfel in Greece with iPad

FORTUNE — I got a London call last week from Bob Apfel, a Brooklyn neighbor (and fellow Oberlin College graduate).

“Two weeks ago,” he began. “I completed the debt restructuring of Greece.”

It was pretty bold statement, but not entirely out of character. After all, Apfel runs a company called Bondholder Communications Group that does this kind of thing.

But that wasn’t the real reason for his call. He wanted to talk about the computer network his team had created to get the job done.

Greece, as you may recall, was facing bankruptcy this spring, unable to make good on debts worth, on paper, more than $270 billion. In a series of complex restructuring transactions, the country’s Finance Ministry had offered to settle for a fraction of the bonds’ paper value.

But getting roughly 100,000 bondholders scattered around the globe — from Russia to South Africa to Kazakhstan — to sign off on the deal on a tight deadline was going to be a logistical nightmare.

“I wanted to do something different,” Apfel says. “So I bought 100 iPads.”

The Apple (AAPL) tablets, equipped with a custom-made debt-restructuring app, were handed out to the leadership team, including representatives from the Finance Ministry, the Hellenic Exchange (the Greek equivalent of the NYSE), the Bank of Greece (their version of the Federal Reserve) and the three external banks that managed the deal, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Lazard.

The idea was to give the participants a rich set of analytic tools and real-time, secure connections to both the global clearing systems and the back offices of banks around the world.

“During the lead-up to the launch,” says Apfel, “members of the financial leadership team were spending over half their time on the road, meeting with investors or financial overseers from the EU and other parts of the troika. There was a palpable need to create a financial decision-makers’ platform that could follow the financier – not vice versa.”

Toward the end, things got pretty exciting.

“I watched hundreds of millions of bonds being ‘slam dunked’ as these guys were running down the halls,” says Apfel. “Split-second decisions were made that couldn’t have been made without the data platform.”

When last deal finally closed on April 25, $270 billion of Greek debt had been reduced to $130 billion.

“It was the largest financial transaction in the history of the world,” says Apfel. “And we couldn’t have done it without the iPad.”