George Iacobescu: the man who transformed London

George Iacobescu, the man who – quite literally – put Canary Wharf on the map, is stepping back from his executive role. He will be a tough act to follow, says Jane Lewis

George Iacobescu was in his early forties when his boss, Paul Reichmann, founder of the Canadian developer Olympia & York, sent him to London to investigate the possibility of building in the city’s Docklands. It was 1986, the year of Big Bang, and the area had been designated an enterprise zone by Margaret Thatcher. Iacobescu walked from his hotel in Mayfair, along the river to Canary Wharf, says The Sunday Times. What he found made him think of The Long Good Friday – the gangster movie starring Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren. “I saw 500 years of history along the Embankment and then I arrived here and there was nothingness,” he relates. “I went back and said: ‘Don’t touch it’.”

An architectural revolution

London’s recent history might have been very different had Reichmann taken his scout’s advice. Indeed, having overcome his initial doubts, Iacobescu became the “visionary” who quite literally put Canary Wharf “on the map”, says the Financial Times – eventually becoming “synonymous with the Docklands financial district”. He transformed London’s skyscape, presiding over what he now calls the biggest architectural revolution in the capital “since John Nash designed the West End”. But, more than that, he helped cement London’s emergence as a modern financial powerhouse to rival Wall Street. Former Lloyds of London chairman Peter Levene compares him to the PM who backed the project. “Rather like Margaret Thatcher, the one person who came up with solutions was George.”

Born in 1945 to a family of dissidents in the oppressive regime of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist Romania, Iacobescu grew up in a world of such dire economic mismanagement and stark shortages that families “were allowed one light bulb per apartment”, says The Independent. When his mother-in-law went to hospital for an operation, she had to bring her own lightbulb for the operating table. Iacobescu’s father was a doctor who, like most people in the country, failed to prosper and his own career path was set early. His first job involved carrying pails of concrete to the tenth floor of a building site. But, ultimately, “Romania’s economic disaster provided the means of his deliverance.” The need for foreign currency was great and “the country had little to export apart from its people”, fuelling an underground trade. Iacobescu emigrated in 1975, says The Sunday Times. He fled to Montreal and spent another two years lobbying to get his fiancée out, “eventually resorting to a successful hunger strike outside the UN building in New York. “A chance encounter at a party got him a job with Olympia & York.”

Will Canary Wharf survive?

It hasn’t always been plain sailing, says the FT. The Canary Wharf project bankrupted debt-ridden O&Y, but Iacobescu joined the new company that took on the scheme and eventually rose to run it. Now 75, he is preparing to hand over responsibility of the Canary Wharf Group to Shobi Khan, who joined as CEO last year. The cigar-chomping Iacobescu will be a tough act to follow, says The Independent. A courteous, avuncular figure, “he’s the patriarch whom the lowliest security guards approach with problems”.

The pandemic has placed a question mark over the future of Canary Wharf, says The Times. But the man isn’t having any of it. “Working from home is a fad,” he declares. “There is a logic to having an office. There is a culture, there is competition, there is creativity, there is dating, there is learning…We’re all chemically made to be together.”

Recommended

Aviva: a share for income investors to tuck away
Share tips

Aviva: a share for income investors to tuck away

Insurance giant Aviva is one of the highest yielding stocks in the FTSE 100 – and it’s cheap, too, making it a tempting target for income investors. R…
18 May 2022
The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100
Income investing

The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100

Rupert Hargreaves looks at the FTSE 100’s top yielding stocks for income investors to consider.
18 May 2022
Inflation is now at its highest since 1982 – is this the peak?
Inflation

Inflation is now at its highest since 1982 – is this the peak?

At 9%, UK inflation is at its highest for 40 years – and it’s not going anywhere soon, says John Stepek. That means you need to be much more active a…
18 May 2022
Three fast-growing, undervalued UK mid-cap stocks to buy now
Share tips

Three fast-growing, undervalued UK mid-cap stocks to buy now

Professional investor Katen Patel of the JPMorgan Mid Cap Investment Trust picks three fast-growing UK mid-cap stocks to buy now.
18 May 2022

Most Popular

Get set for another debt binge as real interest rates fall
UK Economy

Get set for another debt binge as real interest rates fall

Despite the fuss about rising interest rates, they’re falling in real terms. That will blow up a wild bubble, says Matthew Lynn.
15 May 2022
Is the oil market heading for a supply glut?
Oil

Is the oil market heading for a supply glut?

Many people assume that the high oil price is here to stay – and could well go higher. But we’ve been here before, says Max King. History suggests tha…
16 May 2022
Value is starting to emerge in the markets
Investment strategy

Value is starting to emerge in the markets

If you are looking for long-term value in the markets, some is beginning to emerge, says Merryn Somerset Webb. Indeed, you may soon be able to buy tra…
16 May 2022