Here’s a sobering story to chase away the hols revelries of the Lunar New Year, and temper the natural optimism for a better new year.
“But the thing that most impresses me is how quickly a life can go utterly off the rails, spiralling from stability to disaster in only a few years. A bit of bad luck, a couple of bad decisions, and a person such as Mr Shaikh can suddenly lose everything, including his life.” The writer was describing what happened to a British man who was executed by the Chinese authorities for drug trafficking.
Reading this one, can understand how the likes of MM perceive the world: one wrong step (say Opposition wins one more vote) and it’s downhill on the steepest of a slippery slope.
Sigemund Warburg, another control freak and visionary genius, was described thus: “He walks through life like a character in a Greek tragedy, forever expecting the worst to happen, the last man in the dead centre of a hurricane, continually amazed that he is still alive. The frightful sound of the Erinyes [ancient Greek personifications of Fate] is always in his inner ear — especially when all goes well. That, he feels is the moment when one must watch out for the danger signs. ”
And who are we to say that congenial pessimists like MM and Sigemund Warburg are wrong?
Thirteen years after his death, SG Warburg, the UK merchant bank Sigemund Warburg founded was sold to Swiss Bank for a pittance. When he was running it, it was the top UK investment bank. It was not as though he had dumb successors, the place was a meritocracy.
The world of finance had changed, and his successors had a run of bad luck when carrying out their chosen strategy. This is not to say that the strategy was right: in hindsight they should have become a boutique, not a full service, investment bank.
The ironical thing is that the rich-kid cousin he looked down on as a dilettante and bum did better than he. Two investment banks connected to the cousin (one he co-founded, one he returned to) are independent, thriving and still retain the Warburg name.
Luck is all.