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Opinion

Merrill Lynch loses senior man

Hot off the press

Dow Kim is saddling up his horse and riding off to farm his own land. Yesterday Merrill Lynch announced that Kim, a talented trader, will quit the investment bank to start a multi-strategy investment firm. Kim was formerly co-president of Merrill’s global markets and investment banking division with Greg Fleming. Fleming and Ahmass Fakahany, the company’s chief administrative officer, move up to be co-presidents of the whole firm. So all the business streams (global markets, investment banking, private clients and investment management) will now report to the two Fs.

Another clever move from sage Stan; he hopes to improve integration and throws a bone to the analysts on the succession issue. As for Dow, maybe he’s smart too. After the astounding amount of money Citigroup paid for Old Lane, Vikram Pandit’s very young hedge fund, a lot of senior traders are wondering: “Why shouldn’t I have some of that?” A mole chortled: “Dow present values everything.” I’ll delve deeper in a week’s time.

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Hot Tubs

A senior civil servant sent me a newspaper cutting. “I wouldn’t normally buy the Mail on Sunday,” he wrote, “but on this occasion, I thought I should broaden my horizons.”

The cutting was a photograph called ‘Hot stuff’ and showed Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive, Jeff Chevalier, a former male escort, and John Studzinski, former co-head of HSBC’s investment bank, at a hot-tub party in Barbados.

On May 6, the Mail on Sunday published Mr Chevalier’s revelations about his four-year relationship with the BP boss. Browne’s attempt to prevent publication and his dishonesty concerning his first encounter with Chevalier detonated his brilliant career. The tale in the Mail is a story of our times: tidbits about £3,000–bottles of wine, cosy dinners with the British prime minister and butler Barry are standard fare. So far, so appropriate for any 21st century arriviste. The sting in the tail is the lapse of judgement shown by Browne in sharing his life with a person like Chevalier.

For Chevalier is no knight in shining armour. Bile infects his every word. It is obvious that, hot-tub party or not, he was completely out of his depth. “John introduced me to all his acquaintances: friends, co-workers, billionaires, celebrities and the like. I suffered extreme social anxiety. I could not remember all the important people and that made me feel inferior.”

This theme of social inadequacy continues when Chevalier discusses the couple’s holidays in Venice. Lord Browne bought an apartment in a sumptuous 15th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal, and used Elton John’s architect to renovate it. The pair would often spend time at the pool in the exclusive Cipriani hotel: “It was stressful for me as I could not relax around a pool where everyone knew everyone and would constantly interrupt our relaxation,” grumbles ungrateful Jeff. “Lady McAlpine, David Furnish and Elton John, US congressmen and senators, the heads of corporations, Jude Law and Sienna Miller and countless other notables would approach us – or, on rare occasions, we would approach them – and these pool afternoons would turn into business meetings, albeit on a casual level.”

Browned off

I also learnt that Lord Browne, like myself, is a total travel diva. The indiscrete Chevalier again: “John felt it a burden to fly commercial. When we did not have 1A and 1B on a BA flight, John would want to know why we didn’t get the prime seats. Often it would be someone he knew in 1A, and he took it personally that he had not been given the seat. Only once did he not mind – when we flew to Barbados on Boxing Day 2004 and Mick Jagger was given 1A. He accepted that.” Are Lord Browne’s days of entitlement to seat 1A over now, I wonder?

Tawdry tittle-tattle apart, there are two themes to emerge from this salacious saga. Firstly (as I have discussed before), despite the perks and pampering, it is tiresome to be a corporate wife. For that was Jeff’s role in John’s life. Jeff was a pretty boy in his early 20s when he met the 50-something oil baron. Secondly, there are no great business leaders anymore. Cocooned in the candyfloss world of limos, private planes and executive dining rooms, our glorious leaders have lost touch with reality, imprisoned behind the ramparts of their own PR machines. Today, ordinary people revile the business CEO almost as much as they loathe estate agents or journalists. What do you think?

Not a Good Weekend

And talking of business titans and corporate wives, Eric Ellis, a respected freelance journalist who writes for both Fortune and Euromoney, was commissioned by Australian magazine Good Weekend to produce a mammoth 10,000-word feature on Rupert Murdoch’s third wife, Wendi Deng. It is rumoured that Ellis was not enamoured of his subject. Ellis told me opaquely: “She’s not a Chinese Anna Nicole Smith.”

Nevertheless, the article was duly delivered – and promptly spiked by someone senior at the magazine. Conspiracy theorists insist Murdoch had a hand in the murder. This is denied by Andrew Butcher, senior vice-president of corporate communications at News Corporation: “Rupert has certainly not applied any pressure to anyone on this profile.”

Good Weekend is distributed with The Age newspaper, owned by the Fairfax Media group; at the time, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation held a 7.5% stake in Fairfax.

Please remain assured that the Abigail with attitude column will not be cowed. The other piece of good news is that the Wendi Deng profile will be published in the Australian magazine Monthly on June 6. I can’t wait to read it. Since the spiking, Ellis has received six offers to write a book about winsome Wendi, as well as 15 expressions of interest in the article from magazines, newspapers and websites in five different countries. It is a truism that prohibition augments desire. Mr Ellis’ article is now hot property.

Next week: The power of the pen. To whom shall we write a letter? Please send news and views to abigail@euromoney.com.

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