Conor Killeen: Running for the plane

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By:
Mark Baker
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As part of Euromoney's 50th anniversary coverage, we profile some of the biggest names that we interviewed for our April capital markets focus.

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Even in banking there probably hasn’t ever been a time when you would have expected to be asked if you had a private income when interviewing for your first proper job. But that is what happened to Conor Killeen.

He had gone to New York on a student visa in 1982 and worked as an intern at First Boston. 

Conor-Killeen-160x186

Conor Killeen

“I had no idea,” he says. “I bumped into a fellow in the Shelburne Hotel who was trying to get into some business with First Boston, so I went onto their graduate training programme. I wondered if the visa was going to be a bit of a problem and I had thought that I would end up working in the UK, but I was headhunted by Schroders in New York.”

To secure that position, he had also to interview with various department heads in London and, with no visa to get back into the US afterwards, he was taking something of a chance. But he took it.

“I had an afternoon of interviews and chats, and everything was very open,” says Killeen. “But then I was asked: ‘Do you have a private income?’ It’s not the sort of thing you expect at the age of 24.” 

It seemed like Schroders might be one of those places that looked at banking as more of a club than paid work. Perhaps bonuses were regarded as a little vulgar. 

Modern era

Killeen needn’t have worried, however. Win Bischoff, who had joined the firm in 1966, took over as chief executive in 1984 and set about bringing it into the modern era – including pay. He is the one Killeen remembers most vividly now – his infectious enthusiasm and can-do attitude, but also given to lightning sharp interrogation. 

“He used to come down to the trading desk in the capital markets group with a big cigar in one paw and his gold lighter in the other. He had this fabulous capacity to stand there looking at you while flicking his lighter into the air and catching it, while saying: ‘Tell me the good news, Conor.’”

Bischoff had an inspirational devotion to clients, Killeen says, and a great attention to detail. 

“He used to have an executive committee meeting at 9.45 where anyone needing a capital commitment would have to attend. So you went and sat there and waited for your turn, and then you would be interrogated about your underwriting proposition.” 


The Americans have won 
 - Conor Killeen

One memorable later deal for Killeen was crashing the Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs party for the second share offering of Deutsche Telekom in 1999, when Killeen was at Dresdner Kleinwort. The deal was immensely complicated, not least because of its pan-European retail offering, and the three banks were put through their paces.

“We had to go to Cologne every Wednesday to give a match report,” says Killeen. “I was doing it with Michael Cohrs at Deutsche and Mike Evans at Goldman. I remember running to get the plane every time we were heading back. I used to say [to Evans]: ‘Mike, if we all say we have to go, we will be able to go – we don’t need this mad rush’. 

“The problem was that Mike was an Olympic gold medal rower. ‘I like to think of it like the high jump,’ he would say. ‘It doesn’t matter as long as we clear the bar by one millimetre.’”

Oddities

The glory days of regional syndicates could throw up some oddities. Killeen was once roadshowing a Taiwanese company in Europe. Having arrived in London on a Friday, the three executives were due to be in Geneva on Monday but wanted to drive there – in a Maserati, a Ferrari and a Bentley. 

“It was like an episode of the BBC’s ‘Top Gear’. We sent them off with maps but we didn’t realize that they were having their own competition to see who could pick up the most tickets. When they got to Geneva they had a briefcase full of them,” he says.

These days Killeen is sanguine about the state of play between the big European and US firms when it comes to capital markets. 

“The Americans have won,” he concludes. “It took the Europeans a long time to catch up with the way in which the US firms approached marketing – that probably cost them the first 15 points of market share. 

“But the Americans were also so much better at being coordinated with politicians, so they could sell the notion that global expansion required them to be in the vanguard of finance.” 

Killeen ran equity capital markets at Schroders and then UBS, before serving as head of equities at Dresdner Kleinwort and then founding Key Capital in his native Ireland in 2001. Eighteen years later the firm has a combination of corporate finance, wealth management and investment management. “It’s a full-service boutique,” he says.