atans1

“Hard Truths”: an exercise in futility?

In Uncategorized on 04/02/2011 at 6:15 am

In “Hard Truths”, we see how MM perceives the world: one wrong step (say Opposition wins one more vote) and it’s downhill on the steepest of  a slippery slope. Everything is fragile and if there is no control, something will go wrong.

This attitude reminds me of the tragedy of the life of Sigemund Warburg.

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 irony is that the rich-kid cousin he looked down on as a dilettante and bum did better than he did in continuing the family tradition: banking. Two investment banks connected to the cousin (one he co-founded in the US, one he returned to in Germany) are independent, thriving and still retain the Warburg name.

Luck is all.

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