30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Kirk H Sowell
- Published on Amazon.com
Ferguson's biography of Siegmund Warburg will be of strong interest for readers who find financial news interesting and are looking for a broader perspective on the geopolitics of finance, in particular Britain and the European bond market. It will surely be of less interest to general readers, especially American readers, than some of Ferguson's writings on more contemporary issues, and frankly would not be selling so well were the author someone other than Mr. Ferguson.
"High Financier" can be divided into three parts based on the word "Lives" in the subtitle. The first "life" of Siegmund Warburg was his German one, from 1902-1933, covered in the first 90 pages of the book. His second "life" was his "Anglo-American" life - this runs from 1934 through the 1950s, or about page 200 in the book. The focus here is on Warburg's efforts at increasing transatlantic financial ties. The remainder of the book, slightly more than half, includes his "Anglo-German" life, or his work from the 1950s through his death in 1982 which primarily focused on European integration.
That first part will be of most interest to readers interested in German history and the interwar period. One intriguing point is what Ferguson describes as Warburg's ambivalent feelings toward the Nazi rise to power. As an educated German Jew he was of course repelled by their anti-Semitism and thuggish manner. Yet Warburg's diary and correspondence show that elements of the Nazi program appealed to him. This appears to be because as a life-long man of the political left, Warburg felt a strong attraction to collectivist policy and hostility for the decadence of the bourgeoisie, and thus hoped a coalition government including them might do some good. Ferguson's point is that if even someone like Warburg could fail to understand the Nazis' true nature until 1934, we should be more understanding of people in other countries who took even longer.
Ferguson goes to some effort to portray Warburg as an active opponent of the Nazis once he fully realized the threat, but he tries too hard. He claims Warburg to have been "an ardent opponent of the policy of appeasement," but cites no public anti-Hitler statements prior to 1939. All of the footnotes cite his diary and private correspondence. Indeed, during the 1934-1939 period Warburg traveled to Germany regularly for business, and was never bothered by the regime. All his family had left the country except two uncles who had chosen to stay to maintain the family business. Maybe it was because he didn't become a British citizen until 1939, or maybe he was concerned about his uncles. But despite all the talk about "spiritual values," it is hard not to suspect that Warburg's life priorities were no different than those of any other banker.
In regard to Warburg's "Anglo-American" life, he spent some time in the U.S. at a young age in the late 1920s, before the crash, and with part of the Warburg family firmly established in New York. He considered first going there, but after moving to London in 1934 he was heavily involved in cross-Atlantic finance before his focus moved back toward the continent.
Warburg's third life, taking up just over half the book, is his Anglo-German life. I say that - and this is a term Ferguson uses himself - because while living in the UK is business focused primarily on European finance and the need for greater integration. Whether Warburg was as important as Ferguson claims, I don't know enough about British financial history 1945-1980 to judge. But he portrays Warburg as the father of the hostile takeover in Britain, and as key to the rise of the Eurobond market and to London's revival as a financial center generally.
Warburg does seem to have been a master of business management. Ferguson devotes significant space to Warburg correspondence on the principles of a banker's work and good management practices. I won't go into that here, but readers interested in business philosophy may find these segments fruitful.
Warburg was also a strategic visionary. Ferguson consistently portrays him as being ahead of his contemporaries when it comes to business and finance. But he also presents him as being farsighted in geo-strategic terms, foreseeing the synthesis of Kennan's containment and Kissinger's détente. In 1954 Warburg wrote that the keys to victory were "building up the strength of the Western allies, second, raising the standard of living in the East (particularly in South-East Asia), and third, by a relaxation of tension..."
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Thomas M. Sullivan
- Published on Amazon.com
As I wrote in a review of one of Professor Ferguson's other works, I believe it impossible for him to write a boring book. But he's given it a good shot here. Recognizing that Warburg was a financial pioneer in many respects, author of the first British hostile takeover, the progenitor of the Eurobond, and the man generally credited with restoring the City of London to its pre-World War II stature as an international financial center, he is also a surpassingly uninteresting subject for a lengthy biography. As colorless as his custom-made business clothing, as indifferent to his wife and children as he was to any activity, except reading, not directly related to his financial endeavors, the Professor's very best efforts to highlight, or, indeed, winkle out, his human side are largely unavailing. True, he held himself and his firm's underlings to the highest business standards, and the book's extensive discussions of the intramural squabbles and power plays within his London and other offices make for some interesting reading for those of us intrigued by management politics. Also intriguing in this regard, though not perhaps a business practice to be emulated, was his tendency to make enduring snap judgments about managerial prospects, once forming an instant skepticism about a candidate who consumed too many peanuts at a cocktail party! True, too, that he was widely read, at least in German authors, and applied the teachings of Freud and others to his daily and business lives. Also true that among his quirky beliefs was an unshakeable confidence in graphology, that is, personality assessment using hand writing samples. But that's about it. Not only would you probably not want him for a friend, but you'd never get to that issue because he almost certainly would not want you. Perhaps most ironically, he neither amassed a great fortune himself nor succeeded in making his firm the top player in the City's financial hierarchy.
Having said all that, I certainly did learn something about the business and national financial events of the period covered and this will undoubtedly come in handy in other readings. But learning about financial history is usually a bloodless endeavor, and the Professor's choice of this subject as a biographical vessel for an account of the times only reinforces that perception. Got the rest: the `why' eludes me.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Michael A. Warren
- Published on Amazon.com
I worked for Siegmund Warburg and his firm. He was a great financier and a classicist as well. He took books with him on vacation and read and reread them. He lived on Eaton Square in London and his firm was at 30 Gresham St.
He revitalized London as a banking center after the war and orchestrated the takeover of British Aluminum, first hostile takeover in Britain. His partners were concerned since it flew in the face of City practice. However it resulted in a great deal of new business for the firm. Though I don't rememember it being in the book, he alway insisted on turquoise ink for signing his letters.
The book recounts Sir Siegmund's interest in graphology. I had to write an essay to be hired which presumably was sent to his graphologist.
He originated the eurobond market which helped make London a financial center.
It is a fascinating biography about a extraordinary man.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Jeffrey H. Lynford
- Published on Amazon.com
Sir Siegmund Warburg was a seminal figure in the renaissance of post-war UK finance. He was a pioneer of the Euro-Yen market and one of the last great "relationship" bankers. As a young banker at Warburg Paribas Becker in New York, I was heavily influenced by his approach to working with clients and colleagues. Many of my closest friendships today are the result of relationships formed while working at the firm which bore his name. He cautioned all of his colleagues to be careful with their personal reputations, because "Trust Capital" was the hardest to replenish.
Ferguson's book may draw a smaller audience in the U.S. because Sir Siegmund's reputation is less well-know here. Nevertheless the lessons to be drawn from Sir Siegmund's efforts are as relevant today as they were when he was teaching them by example 50 years ago.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Niall Ferguson has produced another masterpiece. I was drawn to his work a couple years ago after listening to him on Bloomberg Surveillance and Bloomberg on the Economy and I have benefited greatly from it. As with all his other books this book is highly detailed, well-referenced, and well-written. This book is about the various lives of (the title is not a typo) a fascinating man who would come to revolutionize banking in London, however he was much more than just a banker.
Siegmund Warburg was born in Germany in the beginning of the 20th century he lived through WWI and was in the early portion of his career as a banker as Hitler took power. Shortly after he would emigrate to Britain fearing persecution by the Nazis (he was Jewish) and start a small firm that would blossom into the great S. G. Warburg and Sons. This upbringing would go on to shape Warburg into a giant of Haute Banque (High Finance). Focused more on doing the right thing than on making money Warburg would help to cure Britain of its post-WWII sclerosis and return the City of London to its former greatness.
Siegmund Warburg bemoaned the lack of morality and the reckless expansion that was occurring within his firm and throughout finance prior to his death, something that ironically led to the demise of his firm following his death. Despite the fact that Warburg is no longer a household name in finance, his innovations and are still present today in the world of banking. These include a transformation of banking culture from an elitist country club mentality to the hyper-competitive world we know of today. He also helped to create the Euro-dollar and bond markets, and was one of the initial players in M&A raids prior to the boom of the 1970s and 1980s. Despite his vast influence that is present today that today the essence of Warburg has been lost, a sense of purpose. Warburg was not just about the money, instead attempting to reshape society in his own image. For example he tried to remove incompetent leaders from struggling companies in Britain; to free Britain from the Statist remnants its post-WWII affair with socialism; and to create a globalized financial market beyond politics that served the interests of the world.
Ferguson has done a brilliant job bringing the story of a relatively unknown figure in banking into the discussion of the history of modern banking over the 12 years it took for him to write this book. I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.