Lunch with the FT: Ariane de Rothschild
The chief executive of Edmond de Rothschild bank talks about history, succession, and why she can’t do diplomacy
As we cross the Geneva head office of Edmond de Rothschild, the private bank and asset management group, on our way to lunch, Ariane de Rothschild opens a door. “I’ll just show you the birds,” she says.
We enter a room lined with display cases full of hummingbirds, stuffed in the 19th century for a French collection. Each bird is mounted on a branch, its breast feathers iridescent and its long bill poised as if to probe pollen from a flower. The birds look vividly out of place in this sober temple to the accumulation of great wealth.
Baroness de Rothschild recalls how she read about the dusty collection in a magazine, acquired it and had it painstakingly restored before moving it to this office. “I said it will be good for the bankers, and I thought they were going to make fun of me but they really like it. So I achieved what I wanted. I said, ‘Please can you open your minds to other things around you?’ ”
There is something of her hummingbirds in de Rothschild, a wilful, colourful creature enclosed by history and money. She holds the famous name by marriage, but has come to wield great, and controversial, authority within the family. A year ago her husband Benjamin named her chief executive of Edmond de Rothschild, and she has plunged into a legal tussle with his cousin David de Rothschild, who runs the separate Rothschild Group. The latter is the best-known of the family banks, and was formed from NM Rothschild & Sons, the UK merchant bank, and the French bank rebuilt by David after its predecessor was nationalised in 1981.
We exit the bank and she checks the route to the restaurant she has booked with a chauffeur who is waiting outside. Then we leave him behind and set off on foot, de Rothschild striding in a rolling gait with her shoulders thrown back. As we cross a street, I notice she is wearing unusual shoes for a private banker — purple pumps with metal skulls on the front....MUCH MORE