Friday, July 07, 2006

The rags-to-riches story of Sir Ronald Cohen

Today's Guardian carries an interview with venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen:
"The panelled office may be large enough for a sizeable modern art collection but it is far too small to contain the ambitions of one of the pioneers of the British venture capital industry. "It's been a hugely intensive year," he says in a rare interview. "I left [Apax] in order to devote my efforts to social investment, among other things."
"The "other things" include an effort to help the Middle East crisis by funding Palestinian businesses, an attempt to "work out where the investment management business is going", and a book aimed at helping entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls. Worth some £250m, he is a major Labour donor. And next week he is set to announce the results of an official review into the £5bn left unclaimed in British bank accounts.
"The scope of his activities and flashes of hubris make it easy to be cynical about Cohen in a very English sort of way. Someone who knows him quite well said: "I got a letter from Ronnie when he left Apax announcing that he was going to address the financial problems of the Middle East. A noble and somewhat wide-ranging task."
"Yet it is hard not to be impressed by the "lofty ideals" of a man who came to Britain as an 11-year-old with almost no English and a sense that he wanted to restore his family fortunes and improve the world.

Read article in full

As this Times profile published earlier this year indicates, Sir Ronald's story is that of the refugee made good.
"He was born in 1945 in Cairo, although his paternal family of Sephardic Jews were originally from the Syrian town of Aleppo. His father, Michael Mourad Cohen, was a trader married to an Englishwoman, Sonia Douek. Forced to leave by Nasser, the Egyptian leader, after the Suez crisis of 1956, Ronald was 11 when he accompanied his parents and younger brother Andre to Britain. "Intelligent and driven, he soon made his mark at Orange Hill grammar school in Burnt Oak, north London. Laurence Geller, a schoolmate, noted: “As a kid, Ron was desperately competitive but never malicious. His desire to succeed, either on the rugby field or elsewhere, meant that he would always be a leader. He was always the one for greatness. He was in with everyone.”

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