From Zurich to disaster
Day 1, 9.30am Zurich
Uli isn’t the smartest of my former students. But he manages
$5 billion of other people’s money and I mentor him on how to
Uli’s a polite guy. When I’ve nished our quarterly meetings
he normally hands me a present for my nephew Alex. Today,
though, Uli is uncharacteristically distracted. Excited, and a little
nervous, he tells me he won’t be able to drive me down to Zurich
‘I’ve got a new client coming this afternoon,’ Uli says in his
sing-song Swiss-German accent. ‘He’s got €50 million to invest.’
‘Great!’ I’m genuinely happy for Uli. Plus I’m already calculating
how much I can put up my fees.
‘Great!’ agrees Uli, but he holds his smile too long and I know
that something’s wrong. I’ve been advising Uli for ten years, ever
since he was a graduate on a course I led at Goodman Rozel. I
can tell when he’s worried. He calls his secretary and shakes my
hand. ‘I’ve bought something for Alex but you’ll need to collect
it from the shop.’ He hands me a receipt for Christof’s Toys and
I read an address in the old town. I leave him, stumbling past
piles of annual accounts and broker reports which spill across
the oor.
Clients like Uli give me an insider’s access. I know what will
happen to certain companies weeks before the stock market
even sniffs a rumour. Part of my job is helping nancial experts
One-way ticket6
communicate to ‘normal’ people. I write their presentations,
prepare their speeches to shareholders and coach them on how
to deal with the more aggressive nancial journalists. My clients
trust me with inside information and I’ve never abused that trust.
It’s a well-rewarded job, and I was just thinking how much I still
enjoyed learning new things, when the bomb exploded.
Day 1, 11.00am Zurich Airport
I saw ames and smoke, and the ambulances driving past the
crowds. CNN cut to protesters running away from tanks. I read
the subtitles ashing across the TV screen – state of emergency,
many civilians feared dead – and dunked a square of creamy
chocolate into my coffee. A groan went round the business
lounge at Zurich Airport as they announced all ights were
grounded. A fat man next to me muttered a multi-lingual stream
of expletives. ‘Damn terrorists. Why should we suffer because
they’ve blown up some airport?’
I mumbled something in reply but I was already thinking about
how to get a train back to London. As was everyone else in the
I took a taxi to the old town and walked towards Bahnhofstrasse.
Underneath all these private banks lie the great vaults. Miles and
miles of gold and silver, diamonds and platinum. I walked over
cellars stuffed with loot from Latin American drug lords and
stolen development funds snatched by African warlords. Who
knew who owned it all?
Day 1, 11.30am Paradeplatz, Zurich
I managed to book a seat on the 12.30pm train to Paris. Not
ideal, of course, but at least it would get me closer to home. I was
desperate to get back: I was delivering a course in New York in
three days’ time and needed to prepare. With an hour to spare
I headed over to pick up the model train. I was hit by a warm
gust of Havana cigar smoke. The man I presumed to be Christof

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