Wealth Management: The Rothschild Archive - Overcoming adversity

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In times of crisis, it’s natural to look to the past for guidance. Today, as we navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic, we are fortunate to have a rich history of our own to draw on. Reflecting on the firm’s 200-year history, Dean Lush, Executive Vice Chairman at Rothschild & Co, speaks with Melanie Aspey, Director of The Rothschild Archive. The Archive was founded in 1978 by Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, and is an invaluable resource which collects and preserves archives of the business and family members. Looking at the fascinating records held in the Archive, Melanie and Dean explore some of the historical crises endured by the family, and the more recent crises we have weathered as a business. By using history in a contemporary way, they show how we can continue to survive and thrive as we look ahead.

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From the very beginning of their long history, the Rothschild family and business have endured periods of crisis and adversity. During the Napoleonic Wars, Mayer Amschel Rothschild navigated the fledgling business through the turbulence of European conflict, not merely surviving but significantly expanding their fortune. The family were able to come to the rescue of an important early client, Wilhelm IX, the Elector of Hesse, who was forced into exile by Napoleon.  Wilhelm entrusted the safeguarding and investment of his assets to Mayer Amschel and his sons and was rewarded for this trust by the income and profits gained from investing in British government securities and bullion. This consolidated an enduring partnership with Wilhelm and secured a role as his adviser, while their actions as agents of the British Government established the Rothschild family name and reputation across Europe. Advantageous early transactions such as these greatly fostered the growth and status of the business.

This strong entrepreneurial zeal, reinforced by an increasingly influential presence across Europe, is a common theme throughout the family’s history. Melanie draws a parallel between the origins of the business and the tenacity of the French house a century and a half later when they were nationalised by the Socialist government of François Mitterand in 1982. Following nationalisation, the former directors of Banque Rothschild, refusing to accept defeat, established a new banking operation through Paris Orléans, supported by the remaining Rothschild banking businesses across Europe.  It took some years before they could use the Rothschild name for their business but in 1986, they were able to rename the flourishing operation as Rothschild & Cie Banque, before taking the name of Rothschild & Co in 2015.

Looking back through the Rothschild history, Melanie draws out the significance of communication. The Archive contains a wealth of correspondence between members of the family and within the business, including a fascinating collection of letters and diaries written by Baroness Charlotte de Rothschild recounting the family’s experience during the European revolutions of 1848. Despite the perils facing the family and the business, Charlotte writes that ‘it will never do to give up hope of a brighter European, a Rothschild future’. Charlotte’s optimism in these family letters indicates once again how the Rothschilds interacted with one another, across distances and in turbulent times, to preserve hope and unity amidst uncertainty.

This wealth of correspondence held in the Archive reveals how the various branches of the business remained connected. Although handwritten letters and carrier pigeons stand in stark contrast to the technology we use today, it is clear how important communication has been throughout our history, both within the business and with our clients.  Speaking of his own experience at the company, Dean echoes this principle, emphasising the importance of communication, especially during periods of crisis, when talking to clients and keeping them informed is of even greater consequence. Whether it be during our current situation, the 2007-9 financial crisis, previous market crises, or indeed the wars, epidemics and revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, it is clear that communication, and the trust it builds, is vital to the stable network that has sustained the business through periods of volatility and uncertainty.

That enduring commitment to building and maintaining relationships highlights the important role partnership has played in our history. The formal partnership between the five Rothschild brothers has evolved over time but continues to pervade the business today as a central unifying principle. This narrative of partnership is exemplified by the Rothschild symbol of five arrows, representing the five brothers. Where it is easy to break one arrow, it is harder to break five. This fraternal bond and principle of mutual support lives on today as a cornerstone of how the business operates, extending to the relationships we build with partners and clients across the globe.

While we have maintained this consistent approach for 200 years, Dean also emphasises the importance of adapting and innovating, pointing to how well we have adjusted to the requirements of lockdown. While we were already well-prepared due to pre-existing emergency procedures, equally significant were the efforts of the IT team, who facilitated the rapid transition to home working, as well as the collaboration and positive approach of the entire business. As a result, we have been able to sustain the same high quality of work and client service throughout. Moreover, we recognise that despite the disruption, the adjustments required in times of crisis often present opportunities for reflection and positive change.

Delving into our past, we can see how we have grown into the company we are today. By using this history to reflect on the present, we can better understand how our commitment to communication, trust and partnership has produced such an extensive and enduring network. In times of adversity such as these, we strive to preserve the firm’s core values, while also adapting and looking forward, such that we may weather future crises and continue to build long-lasting relationships with our clients on an increasingly global scale.

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