Wed, Aug 29, 2007 - Page 19 News List

FEATURE: Nick Leeson reinvents himself as soccer CEO

BACK FROM THE BRINK So what do you do after becoming famous as the man who bankrupted the world's oldest bank? Manage a soccer club in Ireland, of course

AFP , PARIS

As a fatally flawed trader he would spend his time trying to corner the Asian markets. Nowadays it's only the transfer market that catches his interest.

Nick Leeson, the only man to write a check that broke a bank, is relishing his new life on the west coast of Ireland as Galway United's recently appointed chief executive officer.

As he drives through the gates of the club's Terryland Park stadium each morning he cannot but help wonder at the journey he's traveled since the 1990s when he had the world at his feet as an acutely ambitious trader with the world's oldest bank, Barings.

But his life imploded one day in February 1995 when a spot audit by his bosses uncovered his unchecked reckless trading which had racked up debts of US$1.4 billion, practically overnight busting the bank which prized the queen as one of their clients.

He left a note on his desk saying simply "I'm sorry" and the son of a plasterer from Watford -- who failed his Maths O-level -- fled Singapore for Germany, only to be captured and extradited and handed a six-and-a-half year sentence at Tanah Merah Maximum Security Prison.

One of the tricks he came up with for dealing with his spell behind bars was calling the ever-present cockroaches after soccer personalities.

Recalling the time of his release he said: "`Swalesy,' named after the former Manchester City chairman, was the last in a long line of villainous figures that now hurtled towards the watery grave of the toilet bowl. He joined Cantona, Ferguson, Solksjaer and a host of other red bastards who'd cost me money betting against them over the last year. I'll never learn."

Struck down by colon cancer he was set free after serving half the term.

Then followed a hedonistic 18 months before he settled down to study for a psychology degree.

His first marriage failed to survive his Asian ordeal, immortalized in the film Rogue Trader with Ewan McGregor based on his autobiography of the same name -- but he married again, to an Irish beautician and it was this that led him to Galway where he linked up with United in 2005 as commercial manager after replying to an ad in the local paper.

At the time of his appointment he said: "It is inevitable I will always be associated with Barings Bank but, after everything which has happened, I have moved on and I hope other people have as well."

That's proved to be the case, with the club's groundkeeper Noel Connolly summing up the general feelings towards Leeson.

"It was a bolt out of the blue when we first heard he was coming here. Now he's just one of the lads, no airs and graces about him at all. What happened to him happened. It was all just numbers on a computer," he told the Independent newspaper recently.

Leeson has since implemented a raft of commercially successful initiatives which have turned around the club's fortunes -- as he says himself with a slice of wry humor, dealing with a profit-making enterprise is a refreshing experience for him.

Galway, thanks in no small part to Leeson, is now officially the best run club in the Irish League and he says: "I've always been driven by success. Galway United gave me the opportunity to see how successful I can be again. I don't think I am letting them down."

Years in a Singapore prison hasn't robbed Leeson of his love of gambling -- and he's become something of a self-confessed poker shark but he says there's no danger of suffering a financial meltdown again.

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