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For a few years in the late nineties, I worked at one of Britain’s oldest merchant banks, Schroders. Almost 200 years old, it was initially set up by J Henry Schroder to finance cross border trade between America and Europe and fund major infrastructure projects. Over time, it shifted its focus towards corporate advice. In the 1980s, the bank played a leading role in the wave of privatisations carried out in the UK and by the time I got there, it was doing the same in Europe.
The legacy of the firm was apparent to all who entered its offices. Portraits of J Henry Schroder and his descendents hung on the top floor of its headquarters at 120 Cheapside. One of them, Bruno Schroder, remained a director of the bank and his nephew, Philip Mallinckrodt, would regularly pass by my desk. The firm had gone public in 1959 but between them, the family still owned a 48% stake.
The firm also retained many of its historic traditions. Coffee was served only in the morning, tea in the afternoon; and se…