Terry Smith's paper wealth took a £4m hit yesterday after talks about a takeover of Tullett Prebon, the money broker he runs, broke down. Still, Mr Smith is unlikely to be too worried – if the rumours are to be believed he and his management team were the bidders.
Mr Smith is a blogger, climate change sceptic and boxing fanatic who conducts business in a pugilistic style that has made him more than a few enemies. Not that he cares. He appears to thrive on conflict.
He first shot to prominence with the publication of the now seminal Accounting for Growth while an analyst at Swiss bank UBS. Exposing the creative accounting practices common in the City of London, what really caused a stir was that Smith named names. He was fired for his trouble and sued as well. That, in retrospect, was a gift to Smith – the book went on to sell in excess of 100,000 copies, becoming a mainstay of business courses.
He later made a fortune at Collins Stewart, the boutique stockbroker he still serves as deputy chairman. But he seems to have found his real home in the money broking arena. Money brokers allow banks to trade a huge amount of financial instruments anonymously. If that sounds arcane and intellectual, on the ground it is one of the most brutal and cut-throat businesses in the Square Mile. The big players, which also include Icap and BGC, have regularly engaged in vicious court cases with each other over staff poaching, client poaching and pretty much anything else they can fight about. Which suits Smith – who once challenged Michael Spencer, the wine connoisseur and former Tory party fundraiser who runs Icap, to a white-collar boxing bout. Which would have been a sight to see.