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Se­nior UBS econ­o­mist Ge­orge Mag­nus of­fers ad­vice on the fu­ture of en­trepreneur­ship


SE­NIOR UBS In­vest­ment Bank eco­nomic ad­viser Ge­orge Mag­nus has some use­ful ad­vice for bud­ding en­trepreneurs: “Learn Man­darin.”

The 57-year-old, whose role in­volves iden­ti­fy­ing in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and risks in the global econ­omy, sees “the big op­por­tu­ni­ties” in Asia. “This con­ti­nent, span­ning from the Mid­dle East to China and Ja­pan, is defin­ing our his­tory and dic­tat­ing the pat­tern of glob­al­i­sa­tion,” he tells Busi­ness.

“Nat­u­ral re­sources, wa­ter and cli­mate change are all go­ing to de­fine our fu­ture, and there will be plenty of risks, as well as op­por­tu­ni­ties to both do some­thing use­ful and make money.”

Mr Mag­nus has spe­cialised in in­ter­na­tional eco­nomics since the early 1970s. He was ap­pointed to his UBS post in 2004, af­ter serv­ing as the bank’s chief econ­o­mist from 1997. Prior to this, the North Lon­doner was the chief in­ter­na­tional econ­o­mist at pre­merger UBS and chief econ­o­mist at SG War­burg.

Not bad for some­one who re­ceived an E for his eco­nomics A level and did not com­plete his PhD at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois. “I got bored with academia and the US mid-West and han­kered af­ter money,” he con­fesses, “so I came back to Eng­land and, much against my prior be­liefs, went to work.”

His big­gest “bum­mer” fol­lowed 20 years with a variety of ma­jor UK and US banks — be­ing fired from SG War­burg, which was taken over by Swiss Bank Cor­po­ra­tion, “a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence, which dis­ori­ented me a lot”. Yet two years later, Mr Mag­nus was in­vited back to be­come the chief econ­o­mist — and the man do­ing the fir­ing.

He has a sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion for the pop­u­lar­ity among Jews of in­vest­ment bank­ing as a pro­fes­sion: “Money. But I jest a bit. I sup­pose that his­tor­i­cally Jews, by virtue of hav­ing been dis­crim­i­nated against or ex­cluded by vested na­tional in­ter­ests, turned to or were forced into fi­nance and bank­ing. How­ever, I don’t ac­cept this stereo­typ­i­cal view that we are all about money and deal­ing with money.”

He adds that in­vest­ment bank­ing is at­trac­tive be­cause “inside the in­dus­try, there is a range of skills and ac­tiv­i­ties that spans trad­ing, sell­ing and client-ac­count man­age­ment, re­search, man­ag­ing risk, IT, hu­man re­sources, op­er­a­tions and or­gan­i­sa­tion, cler­i­cal and sec­re­tar­ial sup­port and much else.

“The for­tunes of in­vest­ment bank­ing are strongly cor­re­lated with eco­nomic growth, strong fi­nan­cial mar­kets, in­no­va­tion and glob­al­i­sa­tion and we’ve had th­ese four phe­nom­ena in spades for a long time.

“Banks have played a cen­tral role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing and fi­nanc­ing in th­ese spheres, and the fi­nan­cial gains have trick­led down from top-floor man­age­ment and the hot-shot traders we read about, all the way to mid­dle man­age­ment and [other] em­ploy­ees from the post-room to the trad­ing floor.”

Mr Mag­nus has now de­cided to “trade in­come for leisure and lifestyle”, opt­ing for a deal whereby he passes on man­age­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties but con­tin­ues to be in­volved in re­search and client in­ter­ac­tion. “And I imag­ine that will con­tinue for the next few years. I’m just not that driven at the mo­ment to dash out and buy a Maserati or a Tus­can villa.”

In his “semi-re­tired” role, the fa­therof-four is en­joy­ing tak­ing on more writ­ing and lec­tur­ing, “which gives me great plea­sure”. He is writ­ing a book on the im­pli­ca­tions of the age­ing pop­u­la­tion and has “a fairly long list of things that I want to do more work on”.

The mu­sic-lov­ing Liver­pool fan also en­joys spend­ing time with his fam­ily: wife Les­ley and chil­dren Daniel, 27, Jonathan, 25, Rachel, 15, and Ben, 10, and “hors­ing around” on his Fender gui­tar and Mar­shall am­pli­fier, ac­quired with part of one bonus. “I also love read­ing, his­tory and pol­i­tics, and en­joy swim­ming, travel, cy­cling and do­ing killer Su­dokus.”

Ge­orge Mag­nus: “I’m just not that driven at the mo­ment to dash out and buy a Maserati or a Tus­can villa”

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