Money makers: A banker with a soul

Billionaire financier Leonard Abess was singled out for special praise from then-US president Barack Obama.


Leonard Abess: a ray of hope in the banking world
(Image credit: Scott McIntyre)

Bankers must "have a soul", billionaire financier LeonardAbess tells Bloomberg's Jonathan Levin and Blake Schmidt,at the Florida airport he partly leases and operates. In 2009,Abess won praise from then-US president Barack Obama.Abess had sold the City National Bank, which he had helpedturn around after a young Colombian coffee baron hadtarnished its image in the 1980s, for $1.1bn, and had given itsstaff $60m from the sale. Obama said Abess was a reminderthat "hope is found in unlikely places".

Yet Abess bristles atthe suggestion that he has "a socially responsible investmentphilosophy" his family puts its money first and foremost"where we think it's a good investment", he tells Levin andSchmidt. That includes thousands of acres of farm andtimberland (which produce award-winning maple syrup), aswell as a stake in Jersey Jack Pinball, the world's second-largestpinball machine-maker, selling to collectors in a $50mmarket. So, while Abess invested in the airport to bring jobsto a depressed area of Miami, it's been lucrative too, pumping millions of gallons of fuel a year and servicing aircraft.

The unbreakable shorts with a cult following

Matt Jacobson was one of the first employees at Facebook, and now heads market development for the social media giant. He also owns an iconic surfwear brand Birdwell Beach Britches. The purchase was driven by memories of surfing with his father, and a desire to protect the southern Californian legacy of the firm, which began life in Carrie Birdwell Mann's living room in 1961, where she made the brand's signature two-ply nylon surfing shorts.

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Over the years, Birdwell's shorts acquired a "cultish" following, says Eilene Zimmerman in The New York Times. A pair can last for generations, and customers often send in photos of their father's or grandfather's board shorts, still going strong. "We got one pair each summer and that was it," says Jacobson. "Like a fireman's overalls, we'd drop them beside the bed at night and pull them on first thing in the morning. They were indestructible."

Production peaked in the 1970s, and the Birdwell family "lost interest". The new owners, led by Jacobson, have brought an "industrial revolution to Birdwell", creating a website and social media presence, as well as overhauling production, which is still done by hand. Revenue last year was in the "mid-seven figures".

The prog king who struck gold with Blondie

Chris Wright, 72, is back at Chrysalis as chairman of the record-company-turned-media-empire that he and producer Terry Ellis set up in a basement flat in 1968. It was a "really exciting period" to run a record label, Wright tells Simon Duke in The Sunday Times. "We were working with two of the biggest acts in the world" Jethro Tull and Procol Harum. They also missed some huge opportunities: in 1971 Chrysalis passed up the chance to sign David Bowie ("a one-hit wonder"), and Dire Straits ("very good, but very boring", according to their talent scout).

But Wright soon "struck gold" when he spent $500,000 on buying Blondie's contract in the US, where the band was considered "too edgy". Blondie later "exploded in the US", netting all concerned a fortune. In 1985, Wright bought out his partner, listed Chrysalis on the stockmarket, then sold it to EMI in 1991, retaining the lucrative music publishing division, which collects royalties on behalf of songwriters. Wright, now worth £70m, says his aim in returning to Chrysalis is to "reinvigorate the catalogue and polish things up a bit".

George Osborne "tears the arse out of what is acceptable in terms of outside jobs"

Former chancellor George Osborne caused consternation in parliament, and his constituency of Tatton, Cheshire, on Friday, when he announced he would take over from Sarah Sands as editor of London's Evening Standard newspaper a role that is expected to pay around £220,000 a year. The news provoked howls of protest for flouting anti-sleaze rules preventing politicians from unduly profiting from their public roles. As one Tory MP told The Times: "This just tears the arse out of what is acceptable in terms of outside jobs." Osborne didn't even wait for official approval from the advisory committee on business appointments (the watchdog for regulating the pay of former ministers) and not for the first time.

In September, Osborne accepted the unpaid role of chairing the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (tasked with boosting the "impact and contribution of the North of England to the UK economy") without prior approval. He also advises BlackRock, the world's biggest fund manager, for a fee of £162,500 a quarter for just 12 day's work; and the Kissinger fellowship at the Washington-based McCain Institute think tank, which pays £120,212 to cover costs. In total, since September, Osborne has banked more than £780,000 from 14 speaking engagements on top of the £74,000 a year he earns from being an MP.

The Russian billionaire owner of the Evening Standard, Evgeny Lebedev, remarked that Osborne was "London through and through". This may have surprised "his constituents in Cheshire and anyone who thought he gave a toss about anything past the Watford Gap", says Labour MP Jess Phillips, writing in The Observer. But what was Osborne supposed to do with the increasingly right-wing Tories? asks Matthew Parris in The Times. His new role is "a melancholy indication that the bullring is no longer at the Palace of Westminster". At least with everything piling up on Osborne's plate, the abolition of his Tatton seat at the next general election may come as a relief to his workload.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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