For someone seen as a founder of modern finance, Robert Genillard began his pioneering endeavours in an unlikely part of the world. Sent to Caracas in 1957 by White Weld, a midsized New York investment bank, he pounced on a rare opportunity to capitalise on Venezuela’s booming energy-based economy.
Still in his twenties, the Swiss-born banker was made head of an operation that had been a directionless joint venture. But a string of oil concessions being granted by Marcos Pérez Jiménez, the country’s business minded dictator, helped to create a boom in the construction and property sectors and beyond.
Colleague John Stancliffe remembers Genillard, who has died aged 87, dreaming up a structure of promissory notes backed by an aval, or guarantee, and reinsured through the Lloyd’s of London market, to fund companies’ expansion.
Pérez was soon toppled and the Venezuelan adventure was curtailed within a year or two. But White Weld deemed it such a success while it lasted that Genillard was made a partner back in New York. Indeed, in Caracas he had already been making more money than some of the senior partners at head office.
The man who came to be hailed as an architect of the international bond market did not hang about on Wall Street for long. By the early 1960s he had been dispatched to Switzerland to build a European operation for the firm. As with Venezuela, his timing and his nose for innovation were spot on.
Up to then the growing demand for dollar denominated debt by European companies had been routed, logically enough, through the US. But by 1963 President John F Kennedy — under pressure over a mounting balance of payments deficit — had moved to stem the trend, concerned at the enthusiasm of US investors for putting their money into foreign company securities.
This imposition of an “interest equalisation tax” sowed the seeds for the emergence of the eurobond market — a route for non-US companies to issue stable and liquid dollar debt outside the US.
Enter Siegmund Warburg and an Italian government with finances that looked just as stretched as they do today (though by no means as parlous as those of 21st-century Venezuela). Italy had promised to boost its infrastructure with the construction of a big toll road but did not have the means to finance it. SG Warburg, the bank the German financier had founded in London, had the nous to structure a landmark $15m bond for the developer, Autostrada.
It was to be the first offering of its kind. But, recalls Genillard’s daughter Ariane, Warburg had a problem. “It had no idea how to distribute the bonds, as a result of which this first issue almost failed,” says the one-time Financial Times journalist.
Impressed by his reputation as a fixer, Warburg turned to her father. After the close of business, Siegmund called him and asked: “So, how many bonds did you sell today?” When Genillard said all the paper had been placed, Warburg asked what he could offer as a reward.
“Bob dutifully replied that his firm’s policy was that he could not accept a gift worth more than $1,” Ariane recounts. “Warburg said he would find him an original dollar — a silver thaler issued by the Holy Roman Empire.”
Born in Lausanne on June 15 1929 to a Swiss father and English mother, Genillard was part of a family who had built one of the first palace hotels in the Alps and then been wiped out financially by the first world war and the Spanish influenza that followed. An only child, he spent the second world war as a schoolboy in his home town but then secured a passage across the Atlantic.
He took a job in a Pepsi bottling plant in New Jersey while doing night classes in economics and finance. After talking his way into a junior post at White Weld in 1954, his progress was fast.
Genillard’s European unit was ultimately absorbed into Credit Suisse First Boston — but not before he had hired a string of talented bankers ranging from Hans-Jörg Rudloff, later chairman of Barclays Capital, to John Craven, who went on to chair Deutsche Morgan Grenfell.
The Swiss is remembered as amusing and cultured. “He was a phenomenal linguist,” says Sir John. “He got his break in Venezuela because, when someone walked into the office in New York and asked if anyone spoke Spanish, he was able to pipe up: ‘I do, actually’.”
By the 1980s Genillard had moved on. As Sir John puts it: “I think he got a bit bored with investment banking.” For a decade he headed Thyssen-Bornemisza, the product of a fraternal asset split within the German industrial dynasty.
Warburg, Genillard once remarked, never did give him that Roman thaler.