View from City Road: A glittering, tarnished career

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The Independent Online
The most sparkling political contacts in the City; an impressive collection of friends, many famous, a few deeply embarrassing; a full set of enemies, some of whom can be as bitterly critical in private as his friends are eulogistic in public; perpetually indiscreet, often repenting at leisure.

Such might summarise the long and eventful career of Sir Michael Richardson, soon to relinquish the chairmanship of Smith New Court. He will be sorely missed, if not always for the right reasons.

The Sir Michaels of this world are fast disappearing. Increasingly, it is the impersonal approach which determines a firm's power. Hello cold-callers from Goldman Sachs, goodbye old boy network.

From 1981 Sir Michael was behind the turnaround in fortunes of Rothschild, then a lacklustre merchant bank, using an expertise in corporate finance honed by a decade at the blue- blooded broker Cazenove.

Plus, of course, those glittering contacts. While nobody ever publicly said his friendship with Margaret Thatcher, dating back to before she became prime minister, was instrumental in Rothschild's success in winning such quantities of profitable privatisation work, it can hardly have been a hindrance.

His decision to give up corporate finance at Rothschild (where he is still vice-chairman) for the non-executive chairmanship of Smith New Court at first looked a move downmarket. But again he displayed his virtuosity. Smith has gone from strength to strength, and is now a force to be reckoned with by snooty merchant banks that once despised its barrow-boy image.

Nevertheless, the doubts remain. What lapse of judgement, under Sir Michael, led Rothschild to stick so long to its role as an adviser to Asil Nadir? And what drove Sir Michael's friendship with Robert Maxwell? Above all, it is the latter which is the most puzzling. They did business together at two critical periods in the disgraced publisher's career: first, in the years before a 1971 DTI report found Maxwell unfit to run a public company; then, two decades later, when Sir Michael won the broking for Mirror Group Newspapers' flotation for SNC, giving Maxwell the benefit of his distinguished reputation. Sadly, his glittering career was tarnished at the end by being fooled by a rogue.