The hordes of cameramen and reporters were expecting a typical City wideboy. Instead, we got a geek. With his shaven head and self-conscious grin, Leeson looked more like a charity worker than a hot-shot trader accustomed to taking multi million pound punts on the derivatives markets.
Could this really be the man who brought down Barings bank?
Indeed it was. Ten years on from the Barings collapse – on 26 February 1995 – the story of Leeson’s catastrophic trading is part of City folklore. But the memory of those events is all-too vivid for those involved.
Alan Bloom of Ernst & Young, one of the joint administrators of Barings, regards the sale of Barings to ING – accomplished in barely two weeks – as one of his toughest assignments. Almost from the moment Barings went into administration, rival firms were seeking to poach star players.
Bonuses worth more than £100m – much of it based on Leeson’s false trading – were payable the following week. Bloom had to hold the firm together long enough to enable talks with suitors to proceed. Otherwise, there would be nothing left to buy.
E&Y pulled it off – but what of the other players? Former Barings directors have resurfaced as consultants in various roles. Leeson, who now lives in Ireland, is active as an after-dinner speaker. He talks about the collapse of Barings, his time in prison and the lack of accounting safeguards that allowed things to develop.
Perhaps Leeson and Bloom should hit the lecture circuit together? Stranger things have happened.
Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.
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