The new lord of London

Civil servant, banker and the man who saved Canary Wharf, Lord Levene now faces the challenge of standing up for the Square Mile

HE HAS been a highly successful businessman, banker and civil servant. Yet Lord Levene of Portsoken, who last week was appointed chairman of Bankers Trust International, says that if he had to live his life again, he would probably opt for a career in the military.

"It's so professional, so tremendously efficient," he says.

Lord Levene, ne Peter Levene, Lord Mayor in waiting, might have made a very good soldier. Although he comes across as warm and down-to-earth, he is also extremely businesslike and you get the impression he doesn't suffer fools gladly. Turning chaos into order has been the hallmark of most of a varied career that has swung from defence to property to banking.

For those who didn't know or have forgotten, Lord Levene was the man who turned around the fortunes of Canary Wharf in the early Nineties. At that time, the infant development was being savaged by the economic slump and poor transport links and was beginning to look like the biggest white elephant the country had ever known.

He was also the defence contractor who, in his words, turned "from poacher to gamekeeper" when the then Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Heseltine, called him in to become the Government's chief arms procurer in 1985. During the six years he was there, he turned the department round so that it was no longer seen as a "soft touch" for British arms contractors like British Aerospace who suddenly found themselves having to compete fiercely for tenders.

After an election that is essentially a formality, Lord Levene will become Lord Mayor at the end of the month. He will take over the post at an interesting time. It will be the last year before London elects a mayor to run the capital.

"Whoever gets the job will have a lot of other things to worry about, apart from the City, and not least transport. I would be surprised if whoever gets the job as mayor of London doesn't take the view towards the City that: `If it ain't broke don't fix it.' I just don't see a problem."

He says he wants to change the image of the Lord Mayor "as just a ceremonial figure riding around in his gold carriage at the Lord Mayor's show".

"Whilst the pomp and ceremony plays a role, it is really just the top dressing, like the State opening of Parliament. It is a serious job - to promote the financial services industry in this country around the world," he says.

His appointment as chairman of Bankers Trust, with responsibility for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, should help him keep his finger firmly on the pulse as well as giving him something to fall back on after his stint as Lord Mayor, which carries no remuneration. "In fact it will cost me quite a lot," he says.

It will also probably entail a lot of hard work. 1998 will be the most important year since the Big Bang for the City as the rest of continental Europe locks itself into the single currency. "It's very important to let the world know that even though Britain will not be a member, London remains the biggest international financial centre," he says.

The job at Bankers Trust, based in Broadgate, means Lord Levene will have to leave his current post as senior advisor at Merrill Lynch in Canary Wharf.

The City suspects the combination of new job and new post means he will promote the Square Mile at the expense of the new financial centre at Canary Wharf, which has landed most of the new headquarter construction projects for big banks like HSBC and Citibank.

Lord Levene dismisses the notion of any rivalry. "Of course the financial centre has always been the City and always will be. But if you didn't have all this new space available, what would happen? It's a question of supply and demand - the price of property would go up and up in the City until it reached such a level that international banks would start to question whether it was worth making their international headquarters here - in that sense Canary Wharf is a relief valve."

In fact, Lord Levene is one of the best friends Canary Wharf ever had. He joined the property company that runs it, Canary Wharf Ltd, after a stint as chairman of the Docklands Light Railway. At that time no one wanted to come to the almost empty tower on the little-known Isle of Dogs.

"The stories of company chairmen of large companies coming down to have a look and getting stuck in traffic and after an hour saying, `to hell with this - I never want to see the place again,' were absolutely true," says Lord Levene.

He managed to fill the empty office space, as one former aide put it, "by getting people to come and at least see the place".

Lord Levene is more modest. "By the time I came to Canary Wharf, the DLR was running and the Limehouse Link [an underground road to Canary Wharf] was built. The trouble was one of perception at that time. I came down to see what was wrong with it and decided nothing was."

He is equally enthusiastic about the development that is taking place around the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. Despite being head of defence procurement in Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, and an advisor on efficiency and effectiveness to John Major, he says he was quite chuffed when the current Labour Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, asked him to become an advisor on transport links to the Dome, in particular the London Underground's Jubilee Line extension. Indeed he is careful to avoid having "a party label attached" and sits on the cross-party bench in the House of Lords.

Lord Levene has nevertheless come up against controversy in his time. When, aged 43, he left United Scientific - the publicly floated defence manufacturer he had headed since the age of 26 - to join the MoD, there were accusations (later judged unfounded by the Commons Defence Committee) of impropriety. His pounds 95,000 salary at the time caused resentment among other civil servants. "It was more than a Cabinet minister, but a lot less than the private sector," he says.

The Westland helicopter scandal - which led to Heseltine's resignation from Thatcher's government - blew up when Lord Levene was at the MoD. It was due more to "bureaucratic bungling" than anything else, he says.

For two years Lord Levene chaired the Nato committee of international arms procurers. "It was a very good lesson in international diplomacy."

Unlike many of his predecessors as Lord Mayor, Lord Levene is a Londoner. He was born in Pinner and grew up in Hendon before moving to his present home in Regent's Park.

He was educated at the City of London School at Blackfriars and used to take the Tube every day as a schoolboy. Apart from French, he also speaks Italian, German and some Hebrew and has a house on Sea Island off the coast of Georgia, in the US. Residents there will be sending a float to November's Lord Mayor's Show.

He recently became a grandfather for the first time. The proud father, his eldest son, works for Goldman Sachs in New York; his daughter, Nicole, is head of public relations for EuroDisney. His youngest son, Tim, 25, is showing entrepreneurial aspirations and plans to open a US-style juice bar business in Britain. "He wanted to start immediately with a chain but I advised him to start with one first." And where will that be? "Beneath the DLR station at Canary Wharf."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

Test Lead - London - Investment Banking

£475 - £525 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Investment Banking, Technical ...

Business Analyst - Banking - Scotland - £380-£480

£380 - £480 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - Edinburgh - £380 - ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn