Abigail with attitude: Point/counterpoint, Ondra success


Abigail Hofman
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April 2013 marks my seventh anniversary with Euromoney. During that time, I have watched, sometimes awe-struck, sometimes gobsmacked, developments in the financial markets. I have written about big banks, hedge funds, asset managers and the twists and turns of politics at these institutions.

Helped by my two decades as an investment banker, and thus a quasi-insider, I have tried to shine a torch on a few crevices where journalists don’t normally poke around. I have made many friends and a few enemies. I have had some good calls: I warned about the weak Lehman’s board before anyone else connected the dots (2006), I wrote that Nomura’s purchase of Lehman’s European and Asian operations would not work (2009, 2010 and 2011). I consistently worried about Barclays and whether or not Bob Diamond might be Icarus reborn. I expressed doubts that James Gorman would find it easy to turn the fortunes of Morgan Stanley around and I was convinced that Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis’s acquisition of Countrywide would be a mistake and that he had paid too much for Merrill Lynch when he bought it, during the crazy, hazy days of September 2008. I was also one of the few journalists to say that JPMorgan was not as wonderful as the world believed, and that Jamie Dimon should not be both chairman and chief executive of the bank. And I did this long before the words ‘London Whale’ entered the financial lexicon. But I have been too pessimistic about Goldman Sachs, which, after stepping on a few land mines, has continued to perform well. My belief that chief executive and chairman Lloyd Blankfein would have to step down has been wrong. I did, however, make a good call on Ondra Partners, an independent financial advisory firm. Ondra, like Berenberg, is doing things differently. In late 2008, Michael Tory, the former head of Lehman’s UK corporate finance business, founded Ondra together with Benoit d’Angelin and Michael Baldock. Instinctively, I felt that Ondra embodied an idea whose time had come and that its founders were men of principle and passion. I wrote a supportive article about the firm in March 2009. Ondra has since flourished and currently employs some 50 people in five offices. Last summer, Sir William Castell, chairman of the Wellcome Trust and a former nonexecutive director of BP, succeeded Michael Kirkwood as chairman of Ondra. In February, Michael Tory organized a dinner to support the Royal Marines’ Charitable Trust Fund (RMCTF). An eclectic group gathered to listen to a presentation from three members of the force. Brigadier Bill Dunham gave an overview of the Royal Marines. Major Steve McCulley and Lance Corporal JJ Chalmers both spoke powerfully about the injuries that they had sustained in Afghanistan and their recovery, including assistance from the RMCTF.

After this physical and mental trauma, they now have to start again in life since these injuries ended their military careers. As I listened to these young men’s tales of adventure in a faraway and strange land, I internally saluted their courage and can-do spirit. And, maybe slightly unfairly, I compared their humility with the arrogant attitude of entitlement exhibited by some investment bankers.