Want to get ahead? Learn a language
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”