Photos — Maurice Haas, Illustration by Berto Martinez/Unit.NL Date — 1 July, 2010
He has finally stumbled upon a way of spending money that has bought himself something he could never have afforded in his old life – fulfillment
You will know the ethical banker. If you have not had direct business dealings with him, the chances are that you might have met him at one or other of the big charity parties and fundraisers.
With his leonine mane of hair and his craggy good looks he is frequently photographed wearing the latest international supermodel on his right arm, and an equally beautiful IWC Big Pilot’s Watch in white gold on his left. As befits the face of philanthropic finance and the eco-business pinup, if there is a rare species to be saved, an ecological wrong to be righted, a humanitarian tragedy to be averted, or a natural disaster to be corrected, then the ethical banker is there, with his chequebook and movie star buddies to raise cash and awareness for a good cause.
Of course it wasn’t always like this, back in the late 1990s he was one of the Private Equity kings, not so much a human being, but a ruthless money making machine, whose every move was scrutinized and analyzed by business rivals and business media.
But he was always one step ahead. While his rivals were flying around the world in their Gulfstreams®* and Bombardiers®*, he would send his plane here and there just to outfox the competition; he knew that the tail number was keenly watched and that his movements could be followed and the deals he might be doing discovered, simply by seeing which airports his plane used. Truth be told, the trappings of wealth never really mattered to him.
For a while houses kept boredom at bay, but he soon lost count of the condos he collected and the various town-houses, sprawling apartments and holiday homes he had amassed … he knew something was wrong when he discovered that he owned not one but two villas on Mustique.
He had a boat built and before it was even finished he commissioned another bigger one. He moored it in the bay of Cannes for the film festival one year and held a huge party on it that rivalled that of Microsoft®* boss Paul Allen, but he got bored with that too, left his own party early and flew out of Cannes Mandelieu Airport first thing the following morning. But being a 21st-century Gatsby does have its compensations. Before he left the film festival, he did get to meet George Clooney and the two men talked about the humanitarian disaster in Darfur. Of course the ethical banker had been tapped by charities before, and his usual response was to make a one-off six-figure donation, with the stipulation that he was never to be approached again. But listening to the actor’s impassioned eloquence on the subject he felt something that he had not experienced before … an emotional reaction.
That epiphanic conversation was his Damascene moment. The change did not happen overnight, but more and more he found his thoughts returning to the plight of those less fortunate than himself. Whereas before he had looked at news coverage of wars and disasters (natural and man-made) only inasmuch as they impacted on his business transactions, he now found that he was starting to experience them as actual tragedies. And the gala dinners and charity balls that he had been accustomed to attend either as places to do deals or to please his girlfriend that month took on a new significance.
The economic crisis affected him too, not financially, but in a more profound way. It showed him that the Weltanschauung that had been his for as long as he could remember had been founded on a discredited system. It is not that he has stopped making money, far from it, 2010 looks like being his best year yet. It is just that he has finally stumbled upon a way of spending it that has bought himself something he could never have afforded in his old life – fulfillment.
It may have taken over forty years, countless properties, three marriages and two super yachts, but at last he has found the one thing that he enjoys more than making money – giving it away.
The final proof came when he went as far as putting his white gold IWC Big Pilot’s Watch up for auction at the inaugural gala this summer for his own charitable foundation: it raised enough to pay for a school and medical centre in sub-Saharan Africa. But happily there won’t be an IWC-shaped tan line on his wrist for long … Schaffhausen got hear of this act of selfless benevolence and is busy working on a limited series of timepieces that will benefit the ethical banker’s charity … and his newly naked wrist.
*These trademarks are not owned by IWC Schaffhausen.
Nicholas Foulkes is an author, historian and journalist. Over the last 15 years his writing has appeared in most of Britain’s national newspapers at one time or another. He is a columnist on Country Life and the Luxury editor of GQ. His most recent book, Gentlemen and Blackguards – Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844, is published by Orion Publishing Group