April 11th, 2011
07:31 PM GMT
He arrived decades ago on Wall Street with long hair and turquoise jewelry. Today, he presides over the world's largest money manager, with assets of more than $3.5 trillion.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has emerged in recent years as a pre-eminent force in the post-recession financial world, but maintains a lower profile than many of his contemporaries. In addition to the funds it controls, the company recently helped the Irish government evaluate the strength of its banking system.
"We're involved in some enormous things that can change the course of countries," says Fink, when asked about what he still enjoys about the job after more than 20 years. "Our stress tests in Ireland that we are doing. Our auctions now for Maiden Lane II for the Federal Reserve. These are very important, visible things and we take it very seriously."
His reference to the so-called Maiden Lane fund is certainly topical: BlackRock is currently overseeing the auction of nearly $40 billion worth of sub-prime assets bought by the Fed from AIG as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. It puts the firm in the unusual position of having the world's most powerful central bank as a client. How does he keep track of the firm’s many tentacles?
"We are the largest shareholder of corporations worldwide. We have a 5% position in 2,500 companies worldwide. And I don't manage money myself so I can't tell you what we are doing with one specific stock... Did I have any idea we would be of this scale? Not at all. But it is exciting as the leader of this firm watching it grow."
We met Fink at BlackRock's global headquarters in midtown Manhattan. Housed in a non-descript tower, the offices are immaculately maintained and have the discreet aroma of a luxury business hotel. One floor was largely deserted and the trading floor seemed to have an excess of desks and Bloomberg terminals.
Still, it was a busy session, with events moving fast in the Middle East. For Fink, markets need to look past the conflict in Libya.
"The area I am most concerned about is Bahrain. Bahrain is a causeway. On the other side of that bridge are the oilfields of Saudi Arabia. That area of Eastern Saudi Arabia is also where all of the many Shiites are. So the problem you see in Bahrain, which is being funded by Iran, is the most important thing to watch.”
He planned to fly to Saudi Arabia the following week, to learn more about the situation on the ground and offer BlackRock's support to regional clients. During a time of such global instability, the role of a CEO must surely be more vital than ever. Before we left, we asked him what his best and worst management qualities are.
"Intense neuroses. That's positive and negative. I am what I am. You can see me on my sleeve,“ he says brandishing his wrist. There is no evidence of turquoise jewelry, but the enthusiam remains undimmed.
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