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Brave New World

Isn’t at least one of us in the wrong place?” I asked as I walked into an office on the 34th and top floor of an unfamiliar grey building to be greeted by a more than familiar figure.

“No doubt time will tell,” the chairman of a recently launched investment company of an improbable size replied cryptically. “But don’t panic yourself, I’m only here to assist in some introductions.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” I said. “But why you? I was under the impression that I had been invited here to learn a bit about Huxley Epsilon, a new financial advice company that – I am given to believe by its own PR people – has aspirations to become in not very much time at all the benchmark by which all such organisations are judged.

“I was also under the impression that the person who would enlighten me as to just how such a lofty goal might be achieved would be the managing director and please tell me you aren’t going to say that’s you. Are you?”

“Of course not,” laughed the chairman. “Apart from anything else, that would show the most deplorable lack of imagination. Be serious – me as managing director of a financial advice firm? I can’t think of a less believable proposition. By the way, have you met my son?”

“Of course I haven’t,” I said sharply as it began to look like I was wasting my time. “You know very well that, by the time I started covering the financial services industry, your son had been missing for years.

“The story goes that, as a young emerging markets manager, he was researching various companies in South America and on a visit to a logging operation on the edge of the Brazilian rainforest, he was kidnapped by Amazonian Indians. You know – a bit like The Emerald Forest but older, with a briefcase and not in any way that could get me sued by the producers.

“Anyway, as far as I’m aware, you haven’t heard anything from him for well over a decade.”

I stopped because it was only after those two paragraphs of scene setting that I realised that the chairman hadn’t been asking a hypothetical question and was now looking expectantly at someone behind me.

“If you’ve quite finished your admittedly rather helpful exposition, might I introduce you to the managing director of Huxley Epsilon, the future of financial advice?” he said.

I turned to see an early-40s version of the chairman, only gaunter, smilier and without that look in his eye that says: “I could soon as stab you as share a beer with you.”

“Delighted to meet you,” I said to him.

“Likewise,” beamed the managing director, shaking my hand with gusto. “My father has told me about you and swears there’s no better person to help ease me into this whole meeting the press rigmarole.”

“How sweet of him,” I lied, shooting the chairman a dirty look for what was unlikely to have been meant as a compliment.

“Isn’t he a chip off the old block?” said the chairman.

“Er…” I rather regretted the inarticulate first impression I was making in front of a new audience.

The chairman ploughed on: “Oh sure, he needs feeding up a bit but that’s only to be expected after all those years living on beetles and sloths and whatever.

“And, yes, he needs to stop smiling quite so much but, then again, I should imagine a few months of working in London will sort that out. Of course, he’s missing the old trademark look in the eye that says ‘You would do well to understand I am not a man to be trifled with’ but I know it’s in there somewhere.”

“Stop it, dad, you’re embarrassing me,” laughed the managing director. “Anyway, we’re really here to talk about Huxley Epsilon so if there’s anything you’d like to ask me?”

“Yes, yes,” chimed in the chairman. “Have you got any questions you would like answered?”

“For sure,” I said, taking a deep breath. “But I hardly know where to begin…”

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