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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Combining business with humanity, without neglecting either

On Thursday I had the opportunity to visit the Rothschild Archive and learnt about the ethos which underpins this famous company's success.

The success of the Rothschild family business owes much to the solidity of the original partnership of the five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who developed businesses in five European capitals: Frankfurt, London, Paris, Vienna and Naples. Working in close harmony, the family rose to prominence in a number of business sectors including bullion, government bonds, railway and mining finance.

Mayer Amschel believed that forming a partnership would sustain a strong family business into the future, a belief that proved to be correct. The agreement ensured that the reputation that Mayer Amschel had built up for himself, through a lifetime of innovative trading, could be passed on to the next generation. By remaining true to the principles and rules of the partnership and by staying in close communication, the brothers went on to create a business that has remained at the forefront of global finance.

The formal structure of the partnership agreement survived into the twentieth century, though the family business subsequently adopted more sophisticated corporate structures. Profit sharing was built into the agreement. Mayer Amschel intended that his sons should share out the profits of the partnership, ensuring that the brothers were committed to the well-being of each other, and the partnership as a whole.

This ethos is demonstrated by a letter of thanks sent by Sir Siegmund George Warburg after spending time in 1926, as a young man, at New Court, under the tutelage of Lionel de Rothschild and his brother Anthony. His time at the London house obviously made an impression, as his gracious thank-you letter shows:

"At the moment of leaving London I wish to tell you how grateful I am to you for the time I was allowed to spend at New Court which I consider a great honour. You provided me with many opportunities to learn. I learnt quite a lot of details of business-machinery. But I learnt something also which will be far more important to me in my future life. This is the fine tradition of New Court which combines business with humanity, without neglecting either. To learn such a combination is particularly valuable to somebody from the continent where so often humanity is killed by business."

Warburg was later to become a senior City figure who firmly believed that financial integration of Europe was an essential step in the development of the European economy. He managed the firm he created, S.G. Warburg & Co. until the 1970s. S.G. Warburg & Co. was later acquired by UBS AG, creating UBS Warburg, which then became UBS AG.

Despite the depredations of time and occasional bouts of over-enthusiastic destruction, a high proportion of the records of N M Rothschild & Sons have survived across nearly two centuries of continuing business, in good physical condition and carefully preserved order, looked after by generations of clerks in the Archives Department of the London Bank.

In 1999, the Board of Directors of N M Rothschild & Sons Limited, under the Chairmanship of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, formally gifted the contents of the Archive Department to the newly established Rothschild Archive Trust. The Trustees of The Rothschild Archive Trust administer the Archive as an independent charitable trust in purpose-built premises made available for the purpose within the offices of the London business.

In 2011, the Rothschild Archive moved into new premises at New Court in the City of London. The latest building to stand on the New Court site was designed by OMA, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, headed by the eminent Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. OMA’s vision for the fourth version of New Court was inspired by the idea of ‘heritage in the City’ The Reading Room is a key feature of the dramatic modern glass and steel design.

The Reading Room bookcases and furniture were designed, crafted, and installed by the prestigious North Yorkshire company, Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd, also known as ‘The Mouseman of Kilburn’.Thompson’s use only the best quality sustainable oak and skill to create the finest pieces.The bookcases alone used 19 English oaks, took 5,500 hours to produce, and over 1,000 hours to install, and all the pieces in the Reading Room feature Thompson's trade mark mouse motif.

The Archive now houses, alongside the records of the London banking house (which themselves include often detailed correspondence from the continental houses in Frankfurt, Paris, Vienna and Naples), records of the different branches of the businesses in England, France, Germany, Italy and Austria. The Archive is also responsible for a large collection of papers of the French banking business, held on deposit with the Archives Nataionales du Monde du Travail, Roubaix, France. The Archive also holds collections of private papers of members of the English, French and Austrian Rothschild family.


Mathilde de Rothschild - Where lilac blows.

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