By Neil Osborn
My London neighbour, Leo Groth, was washing his car in the street when I arrived back home from Stockholm one November day in 1989. I had been researching an article on Jacob Palmstierna, the recently disgraced group chief executive of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SE Banken).
Since Leo was a Swede by origin, I thought to ask: “Leo, do you know a man called Palmstierna?”
“Jacob?” came the reply. “His mother got very angry with me when I threw him into the swimming pool in 1940. He irritated me.” The candid information Leo gave me, over a scotch after finishing work on the car, accorded well with what I had learned in Stockholm: the cold and haughty (and four-times married) Baron Jacob Palmstierna was far from a widely loved man.
How delicious for Swedes to see him slip from his perch as the key figure at SE Banken, the cornerstone of the Wallenberg family empire, which, then as now, dominates the Swedish economy.
The disgrace was over a minor tax problem, but that doesn’t matter in socialist Sweden, where the fall or embarrassment of supposedly rich public figures is savoured with deep delight.
But Palmstierna had the last laugh. A highly competent banker, he subsequently became chairman of Nordea Bank. (I later met him in that role and he was more cordial than I would have been, since the December 1989 cover story I wrote rubbed salt in his wounds.) It might be judged that the Palmstierna affair was a storm in a Scandinavian teacup, trifling compared with the macroeconomic analysis and complex capital markets issues that dominate Euromoney’s pages. But we were selling magazines, after all, and everybody loves a little human interest.
My tenure in the mid to late 1980s was short compared with the late Padraic Fallon, the man who, alongside the founder Sir Patrick Sergeant, built Euromoney Institutional Investor PLC into the robust company it is today.
But my years coincided with the fattest editions of the magazine. Our advertising sales were booming because of rapid globalization of the world economy and the expansion of the international capital markets. This led to huge volumes of editorial matter for the poor editor to examine. (The record was the September 1987 edition, which ran to 1,012 pages.) So I was somewhat relieved when in 1990 I was offered promotion to publisher of Euromoney and walked away from the magazine’s journalists to what they called ‘the dark side’ of the room, where the advertising sales and business people I was to lead spend their lives.
The next 25 years was incessant travel, as I went to see our company’s clients in every part of the world – especially the emerging market governments and banks that were determined to take part in the international capital markets and banking boom.
And, if I may say, I take some pride in my work in both my editorial and business roles. I believe globalization, whatever its drawbacks, lifted hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe to a middle-class standard of living. And Euromoney, by encouraging the increase in cross-border capital flows and educating the world about previously isolated economies, contributed to that magnificent change in the fortunes of so many.
Neil Osborn was editor of Euromoney from 1986 to 1990 and served on the board of Euromoney Institutional Investor plc from 1988 to 2016. He is now chairman of REDD Intelligence Inc and is involved in various other young companies around the world.