SST/FT special on John Key

The Sunday Star-Times and the Financial Times (London) have published a series of articles on John Key’s background.

The main article is here.  Some extracts:

His critics say the number-crunching, daredevil skills of his old job will not necessarily transfer to politics. However former colleagues say that what made Key an outstanding success in the brutally Darwinian business of banking was not his foreign exchange skills although they were more than acceptable.

Instead what set him apart were essentially political and managerial skills. He was unusually good at charming colleagues and clients, and rallying staff around him.

“He is a real people person very sociable. We would send him in to deal with the hardest and most difficult clients,” recalls John Kelly, a blunt American who was one of Key’s bosses when Key was head of global forex for investment bankers Merrill Lynch in London.

While most successful traders in the financial world tend to be introverted, extremely brainy or thrive on taking crazily big bets, Key had never been a “typical” trader.

“He is one of the most balanced people I know. He doesn’t flap around under pressure,” says Steve Bellotti, Key’s immediate boss at Merrill Lynch.

“I suppose a lot of FX [foreign exchange] guys do tend to be inward looking, but John is a lot broader than that. He has real leadership skills. That was what made him really stand out.”

Pretty good stuff.  Key, no doubt, does have considerable number crunching skills, but the best analyst is not always the best team leader, and his former bosses seem to be saying his skills were far more than just making the right currency calls.

What is unusual, for a profession in which loathing is the standard social currency, is that it is hard to find any traces of enemies that Key may have made. His career appears to be devoid of the scandal, bitter feuds or outrageous ego-flaunting incidents that are typical of the profession.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen famously called Key “a rich prick” late last year. He was right on the first point, but if Key were a prick, you’d expect him to have collected a few more enemies on the way.

The high stakes and tribal nature of investment banking mean the head of a successful team, such as Key, is often hated by others in rival teams. And those with sufficient character to rise to the top are often aggressive, forceful individuals with polarising personalities.

Key’s lack of enemies won’t stop Labour trying to find some I am sure.  I fully expect during the election campaign someone will emerge to complain the Key was once rude to them or unsympathetic to them, 25 years ago.

The SST also has a timeline of Key’s life. The early years are the only interesting parts (the rest is a list of jobs) with his father dying when Key was six , leaving his mother in debt with three young children.  He met his future wife Bronagh when he was at school and married her when he was 23, so looks like he doesn’t even have any bitter ex-girlfriends as potential skeletons!

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