Profile: Shigeru 'Sugar' Myojin - As sweet as it comes

David Callaway looks at the post-Travelers future for Salomon's richest trader. Below, Michael Lewis on great characters from the past
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The Independent Online
When Travelers Group completes its $9bn (pounds 6.3bn) purchase of Salomon later this year, Shigeru "Sugar" Myojin will receive Travelers shares worth $11.4m. But that won't be his biggest payment, even in the last 12 months.

Myojin, a trading legend from the City to Wall Street to Tokyo's Otemachi district, made $31.45m last year, including a $10m bonus and almost $19m in deferred pay-ments for his work as the point man for Salomon's mammoth proprietary trading business.

Now that Salomon will be merged with Travelers' Smith Barney into a global investment banking network, all eyes will be on Myojin to see if he can continue to work his high-wire trading magic under the sober regime of an insurance company.

"The worry people have is that he will be somehow forced to report to a risk-averse chief executive officer who may give him a hard time about some of the positions he wants to take," said Roy Smith, professor of finance at New York University's Stern School of Business. "I'm not so sure this is true. Why would they want to disturb him?"

Myojin, nicknamed "Sugar" by a colleague from Texas who couldn't pronounce "Shigeru", is no stranger to big money. As head of a business that risks millions for Salomon every day, betting on bonds and currencies, precious metals and coffee, he is also used to being in control.

He operates from Salomon's cavernous trading floor next to Victoria Station in London, making split-second decisions on whether to buy a load of German bonds or sell Japanese bond futures, and leads a group of some three dozen Salomon proprietary traders worldwide.

The 48-year-old trader, the last of a long line of super-traders that gave Salomon its cowboy reputation in the 1980s and earned then-chairman, John Gutfreund, the title of "King of Wall Street", almost retired two years ago.

Salomon, reluctant to lose its money machine, offered Myojin the position of vice-chairman and head of its proprietary trading business, its most important. He got a salary of $520,000 and an incentive package that tied his bonus to trading profits he generated, which means extra pay in tens of millions in good years.

For Myojin, there have been lots of good years. In 1991, profits from his trading are said to have accounted for almost half of Salomon's $919m in pre-tax profits. He also had big years in 1989 and 1990 and in the last 12 months has helped Salomon earn about $650m in trading for its own account.

While many big investment banks engage in proprietary trading, Salomon is known as the biggest gambler on the block. It takes extraordinary positions, mostly in bonds and bond futures.

Will it change under the leadership of Travelers' boss, Sandy Weill? Early signs suggest it will be business as usual. Under the new management board, Myojin will share responsibilities for global arbitrage with the old Salomon team, including Costas Kaplanis and Robert Stavis.

Analysts and former employees believe Weill will continue to give Myojin a free hand to risk money on big bets. Indeed, Travelers' deep pockets can cushion the blow from any losses that proprietary trading might develop, losses that historically made Salomon's quarterly earnings figures among the hardest to predict on Wall Street.

"He's the most important person to help Sandy Weill control the risk of proprietary trading," said Michael Holland, head of fund manager Holland & Co, who worked with Myojin at Salomon from 1989 to 1992. "They've got to keep him."

Myojin, dogged by the Japanese press for his wealth during his years with Salomon in Japan, doesn't give interviews - declining to talk even through a Salomon spokesman.

But despite a low profile, his eccentricities are legendary. While heading Salomon's Japanese office in the 1980s, he was known to carry a baseball bat and had a US army helmet on his desk. He rode a bicycle through the trading room and threw a cream pie at an employee.

Described as a slight man prone to outbursts of laughter and sudden mood swings, Myojin exerts strong control over his staff and expects the same sort of commitment to the markets from them as he has. Employees in Japan had to attend tennis weekends with him at Tokyo's fashionable Ariake club or parties at his home in the mountains. Staff prayed with him at a Shinto shrine on the day before quarterly expiration of futures contracts, when there is traditionally heavy trading.

Although the pressure of risking millions of dollars takes its toll on many traders, Myojin's staying power is attributed to his ability to keep a golfer's cool. "He is not someone who ignores risk. But he has an enormous amount of confidence in his ability to make money," Mr Holland said.

Myojin, born in Nagoya, Japan, got his first job in 1973 as a salesman for Yamaichi Securities, where he would call on clients by bicycle around Shizouka, west of Tokyo. After a two-year stint, he moved to London for Yamaichi. He transferred to Salomon in 1979 and returned to Tokyo to run the yen bond desk.

In 1985, the Japanese government allowed futures on Japanese bonds to be traded for the first time. Myojin travelled to New York to research how futures trading worked beforepreparing for the new products.

Myojin decided the futures were overpriced. He sold them and bought the underlying bonds, making enormous profits for Salomon and upsetting established Japanese firms such as Yamaichi and Nomura Securities.

He had intended to retire in 1995 to study Western art, but continued with Salomon and moved to London, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

As a member of the management committee of the new Salomon Smith Barney, Myojin will be a key player in making the new company work and making sure that Sandy Weill's biggest bet ever - that Salomon and Smith Barney can work together - doesn't become his most disastrous of all.