An Interview with
ROGER BERKOWITZ: When you heard from a friend that the Arendt Center was organizing this conference, you made it known you had strong opinions about the intellectual origins of the financial crisis. I appreciate your making time for this discussion. First, I’d like to start just by having you tell me a little bit about your background in business and how that affects your perspective on the financial crisis that we’ve just been going through.
VINCENT MAI: I grew up in South Africa on a farm in the Eastern Cape, a far cry from the financial community in New York. I had the very good fortune when I left South Africa, which I did in the sixties, to go to London, and started my career working for an extraordinary man, a great man, Sir Siegmund Warburg, the founder of S. G. Warburg & Co. There happens to be a biography just on the newsstands right now of Sir Siegmund by Niall Ferguson, High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg.
Now, the essence of this man—and it’s all relevant to what defined my approach—was just a passionate view that your reputation was everything and that your reputation was governed by the quality of the advice you gave to people, and the correctness of your advice. He saw himself as the family doctor for companies around the world. And money was secondary. You were in it for the intellectual satisfaction, for your reputation, for doing good, and, you made money, but that wasn’t the prime objective— and that’s a big theme when one reads this book.
Then I came to the United States. I eventually became a partner in Lehman Brothers. Now this was Lehman in the old days when firms were private, when it was a partnership, and it wasn’t all that long ago,