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People and Markets

Obituary: Rob Jolliffe — leading by example

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Known for his winning personality and as a team player above all else, versatile DCM banker Rob Jolliffe died on December 28. He had been battling Parkinson’s disease for more than 10 years. He was 62.

Of all the positive characteristics that friends and colleagues use to describe Rob Jolliffe, it is his shining personality that stands out the most.

A fierce intellect, a mentor, a keen historian and linguist, a lover of literature and rugby (especially if it was Welsh) and authentic to the end, Jolliffe saw the essence of life in every activity — be that in his business or personal life.

He is invariably described as a “good man” — a description that, to some Britons at least, is one of the greatest accolades that can be bestowed upon a fellow human being.

Carsten Kengeter, a close friend and colleague with whom Jolliffe worked with at BZW, Goldman Sachs, UBS and Deutsche Börse, emphasises his winning personality, his dynamism and how he brought things to life. “He was always agile, always looking for the next thing and extremely productive as an individual, but at the same time he never put himself first or gave in to ego,” he says.

“His willpower was stronger than that of most… his impatience was legendary but served as a great stimulant to him and others. He was great at focus and multi-tasking alike, he did not suffer fools gladly but never let that get in the way of anything.”

A versatile leader

Jolliffe had a wide-ranging career in the debt markets, working as a versatile practitioner across several banks, markets, and specialities. Graduating from Keble College, Oxford in 1983, reading modern history, he soon joined Credit Suisse First Boston before switching to Merrill Lynch. In 1987 he made the move to JP Morgan before moving to BZW in London in 1994, and then to Frankfurt (he spoke fluent German).

His next move came two years later when he joined Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt, eventually moving back to London with the firm. Six years later, in 2002, he made the move to RBS as global head of primary operations in debt capital markets, where he stayed until the global financial crisis.

Taking a break from capital markets after the crisis had wrought havoc on RBS and other banks, Jolliffe moved back to his homeland of Wales where he joined the board of trustees at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. He made a big impact during this time. In the words of fellow trustee and friend Steffan Williams, “he wanted to make a contribution to Welsh life and it would be fair to say that his involvement has been a very significant one”.

Just a year later in 2009 he was brought back into the capital markets fray when he joined UBS as co-global head of DCM in London, before heading up the firm's emerging markets effort in 2012. His final switch was to Deutsche Börse in 2015, where he stayed for two years as head of sales.

Symon Drake-Brockman, who was global head of debt markets at RBS and hired Jolliffe into the UK firm, says that he was one of the architects who transformed the bank’s at-the-time quite weak capital markets team into a market leader.

“He came from the FIG side of the industry but he was equally comfortable talking to the Tescos or RWEs of this world," says Drake-Brockman, who is now managing partner at Pemberton, the private credit manager. "He really transformed our platform to be one of the market leaders. That’s what Rob was — he was very versatile and very flexible in his thinking to come up with the right solutions.

“He was also fun because of his intellect and breadth of knowledge around a huge variety of topics and subjects. He was one of the really nice guys in the business. This is my lasting memory of him.”

Colleagues, who were invariably also his friends, were at pains to highlight his immense intellect. “You can’t do this job well without being very clever,” says David Soanes, a former colleague at UBS. “You have to hold so much in your head about the business, the markets, the clients, what they want, what they don’t want. That’s why so few people make it. But he made it — and not just at one firm, but at several.”

A client favourite

It was with clients that Jolliffe really made his mark across his career. He was smart, thoughtful and charming — so when the phone rang and the clients saw that it was Jolliffe they always picked up, Soanes says. “It’s a people business, but an incredibly intense one on account of the frequent client interaction,” he says. “In DCM, many clients do deal after deal after deal, so the bank-borrower relationship is very intense. Rob brought that intensity but without any arrogance.

“There are some DCM bankers who were very successful but left quite a mark on their clients. Rob was a very successful DCM banker but clients would all have thought of him with a great fondness and a great smile.”

His commitment to clients consistently shone through and it was here that his most rare and valuable qualities were on display. “He would do anything for them if he could,” says Kengeter, now partner at 7RIDGE, the private markets asset manager that he founded. “He would always do what was best for the subject. He would never objectify his conversation partner and drive his own agenda. He would be telepathically moving himself into the position of his dialectic partner. And basically divine what was best for them and then do that.

"But he was also very direct — not someone to hold back on anything if he felt a client had the wrong idea or if something was on his mind.”

His popularity with clients was driven by his thoughtfulness — he had an ability to build a strong rapport with people because of his ability to bring genuine advice rather than just push a product.

For Soanes, he was one of those rare bankers that clients followed out of personal loyalty. “You can only be successful in debt capital markets banking if you have clients,” he says, “and that’s what he brought with him. Whereas with many folk it’s the institution that carries the relationship far more than the individual, with Rob he carried these individual relationships.”

Jolliffe was never seen as trying to steal clients away from one bank to the next, they just went with him when he moved, loyal to him first of all.

“When he phoned someone up, they knew that with Rob they would have a good chat about something — it might be about the market, it might not be — they would love talking to him, given his wide interests and intellect,” adds a former colleague.

Everyone he worked with could see how much Jolliffe inspired confidence in clients about the viability of transactions and their pricing.

“Professionally, he was in a class of his own,” says James Garvey, a former colleague at Goldman Sachs. “He was trusted by everyone in the market. He had this unique ability to describe the architecture of a current market and articulate how a client’s deal, its pricing and its credit profile could best be positioned. He was respected by syndicate and DCM peers in the market who typically deferred to Rob on joint calls. At your peril did you attempt to challenge that searing intellect and acerbic wit.”

A mentor

Professionally, Jolliffe radiated with colleagues as well as clients. His leadership within the firms he worked for made him stand out as a mentor as well as an esteemed deal maker.

“He was intellectually very thoughtful around the client base and how to position the business, but he was also focused on mentoring younger people within the team and building a real team mentality,” says Drake-Brockman. “People loved working with Rob because they liked his thoughtfulness and intellect but also his passion and determination. He wanted to make things happen.”

Garvey, who is now a partner at Martello Expert Services, a firm he co-founded, describes how Jolliffe was an invaluable colleague. “I joined Goldman Sachs in 1999 as a so-called lateral hire — a VP arriving from outside the firm,” he says. “This was difficult as you had to make your way alongside regimented cohorts of Goldman people who had professionally grown up together, were very tight and it was understandably difficult to initially establish yourself. Rob had done the same, joining from JP Morgan, in Frankfurt initially. He immediately saw my plight and took me under his wing — being a fellow Celt helped. He showed me the ropes, helping me to navigate the organisation and generally looking after me. I am deeply indebted to Rob for being my sponsor in those years.”

Kengeter also remembers their Goldman Sachs days warmly. “I still see him in front of me at Goldman when he was on syndicate, with three phones in his hands all at the same time. He walked into the office at 7am and walked out at 6pm and he wouldn’t have left anything out on the field. He was full on, he had so much well-directed energy. He was leading by example.”

He adds: “He was a classic team player and that is why I always come back to the rugby analogy with Rob. Never complaining, nothing ever underhand; always fair, always playing for the team, always giving his best, just a wonderful personality.”

Jolliffe was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of many things related to DCM. He also had an abundance of outside interests. He had an ability to talk to anyone, and was able to walk straight into a meeting, a coffee shop, a pub and quickly find common ground with anyone.

“He was really amazing,” another friend who worked under Jolliffe at UBS told GlobalCapital. “A really incredible, personable and interesting person. In the workplace he was a really great judge of people and a huge sponsor of people as well. He spent a lot of time thinking about developing people and it was clearly on his agenda. Being interested in this side of things isn't a given at all, but he was great all-rounder.”

A friend

It is a testament to Jolliffe that everyone GC spoke to for this piece considers themselves his friend first and foremost, and a client or colleague second.

As a versatile capital markets practitioner, he worked across origination, fixed income, sales, syndicate, and was often hired for his ability to drive stronger co-ordination between separate divisions. But beyond the capital markets, he was a passionate man with strong family values.

A fervent student of history until the end, Jolliffe carried his passion for it with him throughout his life. The fabled story of how he helped find a batch of coins known as the Tregwynt hoard in his own back garden is legendary, his self-taught love of the German language impressive, and his love of Aston Villa football club was, while unfashionable, unyielding. He even managed to secure the UK distribution rights for Colditz Beer, beating, among others, Tesco to the punch.

“Rob was just a very good all-round banker and an all-round person,” said another personal friend and colleague. “I don't want to sound like an old fossil, but times have changed. Sometimes personalities left the markets in those days but his willingness to try new ventures, including working abroad and his interesting path across seven banks was admirable.”

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Jolliffe was known for being positive and consistent — and he possessed a renowned sense of humour. He was able to balance his career with his family and personal interests, which many in the industry struggle to achieve.

Andy Townsend, a close friend who started as a client, says that it was his personality that made him so good at what he did and what set him apart as a man. “In today’s language, he brought his real self to where he was, he was authentic before that was really a word in the workplace,” he says. “It was maybe one of the reasons he and I got on so well. On multiple occasions people questioned that he could be an investment banker for a living.”

Jolliffe also had a reputation as a humble man, choosing to stay with friends when travelling rather than staying in fancy hotels. On one trip to New Zealand, he spent the night with friends in a camper van despite the fact his employer at the time had already paid for a hotel.

Last, but by no means least, was his love of rugby. A staunch Wales fan, Jolliffe spent his life supporting the team through thick and thin. He travelled to the World Cup in 2003 — which, to his chagrin, England won. While he couldn’t bring himself to wear an England shirt for the occasion, he met his friends halfway by wearing a British Lions jersey (see picture).

It was during this trip that he deployed his love for singing. “He was a bit of a clichéd Welshman,” says Townsend. “He was a fantastic singer in that Rugby World Cup. We were on the train out to one of the big matches and he was essentially teaching the England fans the words to their own songs.”

Similarly, at Townsend’s stag party in Ireland he was drawn into a singing challenge outside a pub — and he of course knew every song as he competed with the locals.

“The most bizarre thing of all was his party piece, his favourite song, which was Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) by Benny Hill from 1973. It’s a very quirky song but any anytime he was asked to sing, that was his first choice,” says Townsend. “Rob was not your typical Goldman Sachs banker by any stretch.”

A wife to Jo, and a father to George, Emily, Charlie and Isabel, Rob Jolliffe will be remembered on January 22 at a service in Wiltshire.