A lively memoir of City wheeler-dealing

Cover of Freud in the CityFreud in the City

By David Freud

Tales of “swindling villains and rags-to-riches heroes” can grip anyone’s attention, but rarely does literature about finance capture the public’s imagination, says Alexander Preston in the New Statesman. It sometimes happens in the US – Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker pulled it off in the early 1990s – but in the UK, fewer people have an active interest in the market, making it rare for a book about the City to become mainstream.

But David Freud, grandson of Sigmund, has made a valiant attempt to make the world of money come alive in his memoir of 20 years of deal making – spanning the era just before the Big Bang to his retirement in 2003. Freud began his career as a writer on the FT’s ‘Lex’ column. He moved to SG Warburg Securities in 1984 and was promoted to senior corporate financier at UBS after the Swiss bank acquired Warburg. Freud quickly made his mark as IPO king, says Alistair Osborne in The Daily Telegraph.
The book focuses on his forte – doing deals – from British Airways’ privatisation to “entertaining accounts” of the selling of Eurotunnel, EuroDisney and Railtrack, where marketing played a crucial role in creating investor interest.

He remarks too that a fair number of issues turned out to be dogs, says Matthew Lynn on Bloomberg. “I had successfully sold the market a pup,” he says of EuroDisney’s initial public offering – a promotion that included hiring a team of dancers who were pelted with eggs by unimpressed traders in Paris. Further revelations come from a positive picture of John Prescott, says Maggie Urry in the FT. Freud recalls a fraught meeting in January 1998, at which he confessed to the deputy prime minister that his team had got its sums so wrong over the Channel Tunnel Rail Link that it was desperately seeking £1.2bn of public money to bridge the gap. After a “careful and extended cross-examination”, Prescott declined the request.

Such frankness is just one merit of this “engaging and amusing autobiography”, says Martin Dickson in the FT. Freud is a “natural storyteller”, able to write about complicated matters in plain English and his easy, colourful account of triumphs and disasters is helped by a “superhuman ability to remember conversations long ago”. But “a descendent of the founder of psychoanalysis” could have offered “more penetrating insight”, suggests Lynn. Freud’s grandfather might have wanted more on how he felt about his experiences. What motivates the City’s dealmakers to work so hard, for example? Do they really need so much money? And if so, why?

Freud in the City is published by Bene Factum Publishing, £18. 

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