Sir Patrick Sergeant, even at the age of 95, seldom takes no for an answer. Ask anybody so poorly advised as to have declined an invitation to join him for a glass of champagne.
Financial journalism and the international capital market are all the richer for Sergeant’s persistence. He says that when he presented his idea for a new magazine tracking the evolution of the Eurobond market to Siegmund Warburg in 1969, he was initially given short shrift.
“Siegmund said he already had too much to read,” Sergeant recalls. “So having been thoroughly discouraged, I went ahead and did it anyway.”
Fortunately, Lord Rothermere of Associated Newspapers offered more encouragement. Over the course of a famous conversation on a bench in New York’s Central Park in April 1969, he agreed to put up the £6,000 of capital that Sergeant, then The Daily Mail’s City editor, said he needed to launch his venture.
Lord Rothermere of Associated Newspapers
It was a wise investment, because Sergeant was right in having identified a gap in the market for a magazine dedicated to covering the Eurobond market, which had expanded rapidly since the launch of the first transaction by Autostrade in 1963. New issuance had risen from under $2 billion (equivalent) in 1967 to $3.13 billion in 1968. For one reason or another, the established media continued to regard the market with something approaching disdain and viewed its practitioners as unreliable mavericks.
As David Kynaston noted in his centenary history of the Financial Times, even by the early 1970s: “The Euromarkets in particular were somehow regarded as cultish and beyond the pale, a freak that was not the proper business of the FT.”
This much was confirmed by market insiders. Those who had championed Eurobonds from the start were still being “studiously ignored”, wrote Stanislas Yassukovich, one of the market’s most noted pioneers, in 2014.
That left the door open for Sergeant to set up a magazine that he would have named ‘Eurodollar’, had the Swiss banker, Hans Bär, not suggested ‘Euromoney’ instead. Given that when the publication was inaugurated there was a flourishing Euromarket in other currencies besides the dollar (most notably Deutschemarks), it was a sensible suggestion.
By then, Sergeant had more than 20 years of experience in financial journalism under his belt. Born near Deal in Kent on St Patrick’s Day in 1924, he went into the City in 1946 after a spell in the navy, starting his financial services career with the stockbroker Mullens.
Originally a blue button, which he later described as “the lowest form of life on the floor of the Stock Exchange,” he left in 1948 to try his hand as a financial reporter at the News Chronicle. There he worked under the tutelage of its City editor Oscar Hobson, whom he remembers as one of the most important influences on his career in journalism. The Chronicle was later absorbed by the Daily Mail, where Sergeant was appointed deputy city editor in April 1953.
Journalism is about people bringing their imagination to writing on subjects they understand- Sir Patrick Sergeant
It was at the Mail in the 1950s that Sergeant appears to have developed a carefree disregard for anything considered impossible, together with an unshakable belief that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. This was the spirit that took him on an improbable 20,000-mile odyssey around the Soviet Union in 1954. His timing was fortuitous, given that this would turn out to be a short window of opportunity for a curious western visitor bookended by the death of Stalin in 1953 and the Hungarian revolution in 1956.
“At the time, Britain was keen to develop a closer trading relationship with the Soviet Union,” Sergeant recalls. “So I went round to the Soviet embassy and asked them to give me a visa. To everybody’s surprise, they did.”
The result was a regular column in the Mail on Sergeant’s Soviet travels, which began with a piece on “the official drive against religion” in the USSR published in October 1954. During his three-month visit, he gathered sufficient material to write a 156-page book entitled ‘Another road to Samarkand’, which was published in 1955.
Sergeant’s account of his journey through Russia, Ukraine, Crimea, Siberia, central Asia and Georgia remains an immensely engaging, highly personal and, at times, very funny volume.
“I wanted to meet people, to talk to them, to see how they lived and to hear what they thought about us and their own prospects,” Sergeant explains in the prologue.
As managing director and later as chairman of Euromoney, Sergeant would dedicate much of his professional life to talking to people and seeing how they lived; putting his pioneering spirit to productive use as he circled the globe in search of the frontier markets of the 1970s and 1980s. These included East Germany, Yugoslavia and – most notably – China, where he was invited to join a small delegation of senior journalists on a 19-day visit in 1975.
The trip went “a good deal better than I expected,” Sergeant reported at the time. “If ministers do decide on... a big shift away from present policies, it could mean fat business for international bankers,” he added, presciently. “They will need another Great Wall of China to keep out the international bankers scrambling to lend them money.”
Early days: Sir Patrick Sergeant
The gradual opening up of China to international capital would certainly mean fat business for Euromoney’s conference unit, thanks in no small measure to Sergeant’s powers of persuasion. Having spent several years knocking on Bank of China’s door in Hong Kong (“persuading them that they were a proper bank”), Sergeant invited the bank to sponsor a conference in Beijing in 1985. He did so more in hope than expectation.
“To my astonishment, they agreed,” he recalls. The event still ranks as one of the most successful in Euromoney’s history, he says, not least because it encouraged the mayor of Shanghai to rally support for another conference in his city the following year.
Many of Sergeant’s recollections of his journeys in the 1970s and 1980s are suggestive of a relaxed and even irreverent approach to global networking. Grasping the boss of the Bank of China around the waist – “as far as I could reach” – and kissing her on both cheeks may, by his own admission, not have been regarded at the time as appropriate behaviour. But that is how he recalls opening the 1985 China conference in the Great Hall of the People.
Rather like dancing the night away with Imelda Marcos at the IMF conference in Manila in 1976, or plying delegates with champagne by the jeroboam at his legendary IMF meeting cocktail receptions, this was all part of the inimitable Sergeant charm. It was also part of the armoury that contributed to the breath-taking success with which he built up the Euromoney business during the 1970s and 1980s. In so doing, Sir Patrick “reinvented financial journalism”, in the words of Yassukovich, who in 1969 set up the London office of the American Eurobond powerhouse, White Weld.
That was quite a tribute. But it was entirely accurate, because Patrick Sergeant rewrote the rules of the game in at least three ways. The first was that far from acting as a passive witness to the events that Euromoney was dedicated to covering, Sergeant himself and many of the senior journalists at the magazine increasingly came to be regarded as an integral part of the market.
“He knew where we were going before we knew it ourselves,” wrote Yassukovich.
Always expensively dressed and impeccably turned-out, and with imposing height and bearing, he looked like the chief executive of a significant company- Neil Osborn
Other members of the relatively small club of bankers who drove growth and innovation in the early days of the Eurobond market agreed that Sergeant played an important role in its expansion.
“At a stage when only a handful of people believed in the development of a new international market, [Sir Patrick Sergeant] was one of the greatest contributors to the progression of the industry and its global importance today,” wrote Hans-Joerg Rudloff, one of the pioneers of the bond markets, in a special magazine produced in 2014 to mark Sergeant’s 90th birthday.
“His belief that London would regain its position as an international platform for capital contributed to the promotion of the nascent Euromarket,” Rudloff added. “He helped the market gain the respectability to promote its instruments, bridging and healing the wounds of the Second World War.”
One of the reasons Sergeant was so well respected in the market sprang from his long experience and thorough preparation. Talking to The Independent in 2005, Patience Wheatcroft, who worked briefly under Sergeant at the Mail, commented that: “The fact that he could talk to anybody in business almost on an equal footing was quite new in journalism”.
“Patrick changed the relationship between the financial journalist and the business executive by insisting on meeting them on equal ground,” he says. “One of the main contributions he made to journalism was that he changed the agenda from one of obsequiousness to meeting eye-to-eye.”
As often as not, that was because Sergeant knew as much about the topic in hand as the person sitting across the table from him, and in some cases a good deal more. That, says Osborn, was important, because it reassured interview subjects that any criticism levelled at them in print would at least be relevant and well-informed.
Osborn adds that Sergeant also put his natural good looks as well as his sartorial elegance to good use in pursuit of good contacts and worthwhile stories.
“Always expensively dressed and impeccably turned-out, and with imposing height and bearing, he looked like the chief executive of a significant company – as he does to this day,” says Osborn. “Top business people took him to be one of their tribe as he strode into the Ritz or into Wiltons – part of his modus operandi was to invite the powerful to lunch at the best restaurants, something no journalist had ever done before.”
The ease with which Sergeant could slip into conversation dated back to his days on the Daily Mail, where he had made a point of capitalizing on his naturally gregarious nature (as well as on the newspaper’s generous expense account) to entertain senior industrialists, bankers and politicians as often as he could. The result was that by 1990 he was able to boast that, beginning with Peter Thorneycroft in the 1950s, he had lunched with every UK chancellor of the exchequer.
By 1990 Sergeant was able to boast that, beginning with Peter Thorneycroft (above) in the 1950s, he had lunched with every British chancellor of the exchequer
The record of an interview Sergeant conducted with prime minister Margaret Thatcher for the Daily Mail in November 1980 is compelling evidence of how comfortable he was in the company of the most senior politicians. At times the unedited transcript reads less like an interview and more like a private and sometimes chummy consultation on economic policy, which Sergeant begins by remarking that the prime minister looks “full of beans”.
“I think what you need – and you have many famous admirers... in the City I know – is a little imaginative financing,” Sergeant tells Thatcher at one point during the 45-minute discussion.
“You’re going to have a lot of trouble with this union business,” he warns her later, with considerable foresight, given the bitterness of the miners’ strike which exploded in 1984.
At Euromoney, another noted exponent of the practice of speaking to market movers as equals was Padraic Fallon, who joined as editor in 1974. He published a series of articles that were structured more as interactive dialogues than formal interviews, some of them based on discussions that stretched over hours or days.
A second way in which Sergeant and Euromoney reinvented financial publishing in the 1970s and beyond was by allowing journalism and commercial nous to coexist happily, efficiently and profitably. What came (pejoratively at times) to be known as the “Euromoney model” was driven neither by greed nor by hubris but by simple necessity. After all, in a letter accompanying the inaugural issue in June 1969, Sergeant had promised his new readers that his new monthly would spare “neither expense nor effort” in covering the international financial market.
Ellis was the first journalist I came across who made the City pages readable- Sir Patrick Sergeant
Euromoney could go some way towards delivering on it by sweet-talking bankers into writing the articles it needed to present itself as an authority on the global financial system. It would be some years before professional journalists would start contributing the bulk of its editorial; in the meantime, Euromoney described itself as a publication that was “written by practising bankers for practising bankers”.
But there were still bills to settle, lunches to be bought and champagne to be paid for, and although Lord Rothermere’s £6,000 was a good start, Sergeant recognized from the outset that the survival of the new venture would be hostage to its cash flow. That is why, as well as drumming up subscriptions wherever it could, Euromoney set itself a goal of selling 40 pages of advertising per issue – a target that Sergeant says was reached in relatively short order.
For Sergeant, generating revenue was a new challenge, but one which he obviously relished. Indeed, if you sit with him for two hours today, sipping champagne and reflecting on Euromoney’s early days, it is hard to judge whether he derived more personal satisfaction from writing about China or selling conferences there. He certainly had the energy, intellect, personality and expense account to excel at both. He needed to, given that he stayed at the Mail for 15 years after the launch of Euromoney. Serving both masters, he says, took “bloody hard work”.
But there is a twinkle in Sergeant’s eye when he looks back at the startling success he and his colleagues enjoyed in encouraging advertisers to support the new venture in the early 1970s. So compelling was Patrick’s sales talk in those days that one of the magazine’s first subscribers, the London hotelier, Charles Forte, is said to have expressed mystification at how he came to be left at least £200 poorer every time he lunched with Sergeant.
It was predominantly banks of all nationalities that Sergeant persuaded to buy advertising, which was an impressive achievement. Before launching Euromoney in 1969, he had had no experience in sales, although former colleagues say that the discipline perhaps has more in common with journalism than meets the eye. Fallon switched successfully from one to the other. So did Neil Osborn, who made the transition in 1990 from editing the magazine to managing it, which called for incessant travel over the next 25 years in search of advertising prospects among previously unheard-of banks in emerging regions such as China and Russia.
“The same skills apply,” says Osborn. “They involve making people feel at ease and comfortable talking about their own business, and listening attentively to what they have to say. In one case you’re listening hard with a view to storing the information. In the other, you’re doing so to determine what service you can provide to them.”
Perhaps Sergeant’s success in selling advertising and conferences was a by-product of his naturally competitive instincts. He had followed Arsenal Football Club since his father took him to watch the Gunners at the age of seven, and once remarked that his ambition as a small boy had been to play for the team. He was also a regular visitor to Wimbledon and he remained a formidable opponent on the tennis court into his 90s.
So it is unsurprising that he has fond memories of the internal competition for advertising revenue that developed as the magazine expanded.
Jack Hennessy of First Boston is one of the charismatic individuals Sergeant credits with both the development of the bond markets and the success of Euromoney
“I remember coming back from lunch one day and proudly announcing that I had just sold 10 pages of advertising to Jack Hennessy at Credit Suisse,” he recalls. “‘Is that all?’ Fallon replied. “I sold 15 to Merrill Lynch this morning.’”
But if marketing the Euromoney name and persuading banks to support it with page upon page of tombstones was like a tennis match, Sergeant had no qualms about bending the rules from time to time when the umpire wasn’t looking. He did so to great effect when Euromoney made its first appearance at an annual IMF/World Bank conference in 1970, in Copenhagen.
“We got into a lot of trouble for the stunts we pulled off at the IMF,” he recollects, with mischievous delight. “In the first year we distributed Euromoney as the official IMF paper. The IMF itself was spitting blood because it hadn’t given us permission to call ourselves any such thing.”
That was cheeky, but ensuring that Euromoney became part of the furniture at every IMF get-together became an essential pillar of the magazine’s strategy. So too did ensuring that delegates at the annual meeting were lavishly entertained at Euromoney’s Sunday lunchtime receptions. That was another refreshing idea at an event that until then had too often been long on gravitas and short on champagne-induced conviviality.
Would you rather be a player than a spectator?- Padraic Fallon
Sergeant acknowledges that when Euromoney was launched, he had little idea of the significance of the long-term contribution that would be made to the magazine’s income by the annual IMF/World Bank jamboree.
“A lot of business was done at the IMF and a lot of bonds were sold there,” he says. “It was an important event for us because you had hundreds of bankers running around trying to persuade the finance ministers from every country you’ve ever heard of – and many you had never heard of – to issue $100 million of bonds.”
This is why, by the 1980s, the annual IMF meeting had become such fertile ground for the distribution of country supplements, many of them on markets that were emerging as sources of business for the Euromarket for the first time. Not to worry if the supplement on Ghana was lost in a pile of 20 other country surveys or buried under the weight of a 90-page report on the British Virgin Islands. Sponsors and advertisers relished the opportunity of featuring in the magazine’s flagship IMF edition.
Collectively, they helped Euromoney to clock a new record in September 1987, when the IMF edition ran to an astonishing 1,012 pages. Maybe that ought to have been recognized as a warning about frothy markets. A month later came Black Monday.
The simultaneous quest for editorial excellence and advertisers’ dollars seldom sapped Sergeant’s reserves of enthusiasm. Like Fallon, he was blessed with the energy, intellect and expense account to pursue both with equal verve. But the so-called Euromoney model aroused the suspicion of those who interpreted it as a slightly questionable blurring of the traditional boundaries between editorial and advertising.
The New York Times, for example, ran a piece in September 1997 on the $142 million acquisition of Institutional Investor by Euromoney, which the commentary described as a “hard-hitting British publisher”. The challenge for Euromoney, it said, would be to reconcile the cultural differences between the two publications. This was because critics at Institutional Investor and elsewhere on Wall Street contended that the UK-based magazine had “allowed its editorial content to be influenced too much by a desire to increase advertising revenues”.
“In contrast to I.I.’s select lists of Wall Street’s best, Euromoney’s articles feature endless winners of competitions, with the June edition alone heralding the ‘Best Spanish Borrower’, the ‘Best Australian Borrower’ and the ‘Best User of Exotic Currencies’,” the New York Times added. The same piece reported that there had been: “Howls of protest from current and former I.I. editors about Euromoney’s habit of rewarding editors for business success.”
Both Sergeant (left) and Padraic Fallon (right) distinguished Euromoney from other publishing businesses through an emphasis on entertaining its readers
The sceptics could sneer at the Sergeant-Fallon model, but the numbers spoke for themselves. As measured by its readership, Euromoney was a minnow compared with Institutional Investor. Its circulation, according to the New York Times, was 32,000, while its US competitor sold 147,000 copies a month. But Euromoney, which had grown by an average of 20% a year and posted only one decline in annual profits since 1969, had a margin of 24%, dwarfing Institutional Investor’s 5% in 1996. The New York publication, Fallon told the paper, had “some of the hallmarks of a business run for revenues but not for profit”.
Besides, while a commentator like The Daily Telegraph could remark on the “judicious flattery” Fallon bestowed on leading players in the Eurobond market, neither he nor Sergeant were prepared to compromise on the integrity of the magazine’s coverage of the people and practices that shaped the market. Sergeant says that he refused point blank to conduct interviews that were monitored by hawk-like public relations officers. Fallon, for his part, made it terrifyingly clear, to rookie reporters and seasoned journalists alike, that giving outsiders a glimpse of their copy prior to publication was punishable with the sack.
Both Sergeant and Fallon distinguished Euromoney from other publishing businesses through an emphasis on entertaining its readers. This was perhaps the third way in which Sergeant successfully rewrote financial publishing’s rule book. Neil Collins was an early Euromoney contributor, who went on to edit the City sections of the Evening Standard, The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. He echoed a number of friends, colleagues and readers when he wrote in 2014 that the founder of Euromoney “invented financial journalism as entertainment”.
That was probably a small exaggeration. Sergeant himself says that his conviction that writing about inflation, bond yields and price-to-earnings ratios need not bore the general public into rigor mortis was something he learned from Fred Ellis, financial editor at The Daily Express in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Ellis was the first journalist I came across who made the City pages readable,” says Sergeant.
At the Mail, Sergeant recognized that the best way of building up similar interest among his readers was to personalize the industry he was describing. A lively example was the Great Shares Stake game he introduced to his audience at the start of 1970. This invited three contestants with varying degrees of stock market expertise to construct a portfolio of shares, with a jeroboam of Bollinger (what else?) on offer to the manager of the best-performing fund.
The first of the contestants was the distinguished stockbroking firm, Joseph Sebag & Co, the partners of which Sergeant thanked for “sportingly taking part in a contest in which they were on a thick ear to nothing”. The second was a humble piggy bank. And the third was Sergeant’s then 11-year old daughter, Emma, who selected her shares with the help of a pin.
The winner, which “romped home”, was that “much-despised system of saving”, the piggy bank, which presumably returned zero less inflation. This considerably outperformed the Sebag portfolio, which was down by 8.8%, and Emma’s, which fell by 17.2%. Tellingly, however, Emma’s pin outperformed the FTSE index, leading Sergeant to conclude with the prudent advice that “the first and best way to save is a home of your own”.
Sergeant’s highly personal approach to a subject usually regarded by the general public as dry and inaccessible had quantifiably positive results.
“Even in those days, the City pages were written for the City,” he said in an interview with Bernard Attard in 1990. “I tried to spread the interest out, and I was very pleased when something like 30% of Daily Mail readers... looked at the City pages. Normally the City page was about 10%.”
Although it had little interest in where small savers put their money, Euromoney would in time become intensely interested in the personalities that defined the capital market in the 1970s. That wasn’t immediately evident.
Indeed, for a Sergeant publication, the first few editions of Euromoney were surprisingly dull. As monochrome in content as they were in colour, many early pages were filled with some prodigiously boring tracts on subjects like the outlook for inflation in Greece and seemingly endless discussions about whether or not the UK should join the EEC.
Just as well that Euromoney was quick to recognize – as it recalled in its 10th anniversary edition in June 1979 – that: “If we were to succeed, we must be different, educational and entertaining.”
As long as you go on producing a magazine that people want to read, there will always be demand for it- Sir Patrick Sergeant
In pursuit of this triple objective, within a decade or so the character and style of the magazine had changed almost unrecognizably from the slightly stodgy material distributed in Euromoney’s early days. By the 1980s its pages were liberally sprinkled with colour photographs, while bylined articles written by a core team of professional journalists had supplanted soporific tracts on the Greek drachma.
There were also plenty of league tables and, yes, awards for the best borrowers from Spain, Australia and elsewhere. These may not have been every reader’s cup of tea (Siegmund Warburg had a notable aversion to league tables), but they appealed to the competitive spirit of the Euromarket.
Much of the change that gathered momentum in the 1980s was driven by Fallon who, in the words of Sergeant, “made Euromoney a journalist’s magazine.” Fallon, like Sergeant, recognized that the real key to entertaining the magazine’s readers was to focus on the people who were the drivers of the Euromarket’s development in the 1970s. This was not difficult to do, because in choosing to chart the evolution of the Eurobond market, Euromoney stumbled upon a relatively small but accessible and approachable group of entrepreneurial and colourful individuals whose pioneering spirit matched the magazine’s.
Sergeant is the first to pay tribute to the contribution to his success made (in no particular order) by charismatic individuals such as Rudloff, Michael von Clemm, Jack Hennessy, Stanley Ross, Yassukovich, Warburg and others. Without their encouragement and in many cases without their tombstones and advertising dollars, the Euromoney adventure would probably have been short lived.
By the early 1980s, others had perhaps belatedly begun to identify the entertainment value provided by the leading players in the Eurobond arena. In August 1982, the Financial Times carried a piece entitled ‘The Euromarket’s personality cult’ that talked of the “supercharged atmosphere of the market”, whose practitioners were “volatile and nomadic by inclination”.
But no publication understood the emergence of this personality cult better than Euromoney. And none explored the characters, egos, vulnerabilities and chutzpah at the heart of the banking industry in more minute and sometimes intimate detail than its editors and journalists.
Was Rudloff really a “beastly boss”? asked Fallon in the course of a warts-and-all interview in early 1993, reproduced in a 16-page cover story. “How do you relax?”, “what do you read?”, “who do you admire?” and “do you regard yourself as a lucky person?” were among the questions Fallon threw at the CSFB boss.
This line of questioning was mild and conventional compared with the probing to which Fallon subjected Willard Butcher in an interview published in May 1980. In a breakfast discussion, Fallon had virtually flung David Rockefeller’s successor at Chase Manhattan on to the psychotherapist’s couch.
“Would you rather be a player than a spectator?” he enquired. “Do you read?” And most striking of all, in a financial rather than a religious publication: “Does it worry you that only half of your top management believe in God?”
Future of journalism
As Euromoney enters its second half-century, it is harder for publishers to produce extended interviews of the kind Fallon had with Rudloff in 1993, for at least three reasons. One is that in an era of stronger corporate governance and regulation, costs will exert increasing pressure on publishers, just as they will on banks.
Sergeant with the current Lord Rothermere
A second is that digitalization will inevitably continue to erode demand for print journalism. Sergeant himself still reads several newspapers a day.
“But my daughters don’t read newspapers,” he says. “Nor do my grandchildren.” This, he adds, is a very different world from the one in which the editor of The Daily Mail was fired when the paper’s circulation dipped below two million; today, it is a whisker over 1.2 million.
A third is the seemingly inexorable rise in demand for data at the expense of words.
“Journalism is about people bringing their imagination to writing on subjects they understand,” says Sergeant. “Data is a rather soulless thing, which tells you how many beans made five last week.”
That may sound like a despondent postscript, but Sergeant says he remains hopeful for the future.
“Like Lord Palmerston, I’ve seen many changes in my life, most of them for the worse,” he says, pausing for another reflective sip of champagne. “Journalism is suffering now. But as long as you go on producing a magazine that people want to read, there will always be demand for it.”