John Studzinski’s imminent departure from HSBC for the comparatively tranquil waters of US private-equity firm Blackstone will be keenly felt by the bank. “It is often said that a successful advisory business is built upon personalities,” says Iain Dey in The Sunday Telegraph. Well, enigmatic Renaissance man “Studz” is about “the biggest personality in the business”.
Vivienne Westwood, who often bemoans Britain’s lack of “salon culture”, should have a quiet word with Studz. The American’s gatherings – at his riverside 1771 Robert Adam house in Chelsea – are known for an eclecticism that reflects his polymath interests. A trustee of Tate Modern, patron of the arts and devout Roman Catholic, Studz mixes artists, authors and musicians with clergy, politicians, royalty and captains of industry. Here you will find the Duchess of Kent and Sting; Lord Browne of BP and members of the Gucci family. Perhaps they are admiring Studz’s Man Ray and Picasso collection; perhaps scrutinising the candlesticks in his private chapel that used to belong to Ignatius Loyola. Studz might mix with the jet-set, but he was made a Knight of the Order of St Gregory for a record of good works, including 30 years working with the homeless. The Catholic church in Britain is “so beholden to him”, says Cristina Odone in The Observer, “that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor changes his diary to fit in with Studzinski’s”.
In person, Studzinski comes across as a “faintly manic and rather eccentric bachelor”, noted The Times in 2002. Immaculately dressed, “he is surprisingly nervous – an attractive trait in a man who is such a player”. Friends describe him as an intensely private, even secretive man. At 50, and without a family of his own, he’s a magnet for ambitious parents, counting no fewer than 39 godchildren. And there’s no doubting he’s rich: reckoned to have scooped £25m during his three-year stint at HSBC alone, he recently topped up the coffers by £5.3m after selling his HSBC shares.
Given his profile as a banker, philanthropist and anglophile, it is a pleasing coincidence that Studzinski was brought up in Peabody, Massachusetts: the town named for George Peabody, the 19th century US banker who formed the Peabody Trust in Britain and was a founder of the bank that eventually became JP Morgan. The son of first-generation Polish immigrants, Studz read biology and sociology at Bowdoin College and gained an MBA from the University of Chicago. He joined Morgan Stanley in 1980, leaving the US after four years to build the bank’s European operation. Here, he operated as the bank’s public face and chief rainmaker for almost two decades. Regularly tipped for the top job, he finally quit in 2003.
Studzinski’s arrival at HSBC, which eschews the “star” banker culture, caused no less of a stir. His brief, in conjunction with co-department head Stuart Gulliver, was to build an investment banking arm from scratch. The usually parsimonious bank “opened the vault” for Studzinski, says the FT, lavishing more than $1bn on the new division, and he hired expensively. Deals landed by Studz included Mittal Steel’s huge hostile bid for Arcelor and Eon’s bid for Endesa, says the FT – yet the division he leaves behind is still “very much a work in progress”. Supporters maintain that Studz was wasted at HSBC: “the ambassadorial, advisory role” the bank eventually lobbed him was a sop, says Jeremy Warner in The Independent. He is still “too young, ambitious and addicted to his trade to be put to pasture”, so it will be interesting to see what happens at Blackstone.
John Studzinski: the tightwads on the Rich List should be ashamed
Studzinski might have many admirable qualities, said Kate Rankine in The Daily Telegraph last year, but he’s an incorrigible name-dropper. “Did you ever meet the Princess of Wales? he asks. “She had that great gift, which, of course you saw in the Queen Mother as well: that ability to make everyone feel at ease with themselves.” Studz’s own great gift – and the key to his success, according to Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of Resonant Leadership
— is “optimism”. “People who are able to engage positive emotions such as hope and compassion are able to renew themselves on a continual basis. It reverses the physiological effects of power stress. Studzinski is a master of this.”
Time management and “a code of discipline that leans heavily towards Sparta” are among his other strengths, says The Times. “I am by nature organised,” Studzinski told the paper. “I never postpone anything that has to be done. I plan my time two or three weeks in advance. I exercise a lot. I take time in the mornings and the evenings to meditate and pray”. An instigator of the new wave of philanthropy now sweeping the City, Studz sees himself as an “asset reallocator” and has no time for tightwads. “We should forget this Sunday Times Rich List, and instead publish a list of the money given away as a percentage of income,” he says. “I think it would look very different. There would be a lot of shame-on-yous out there.”