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August 30, 2000

International financier who stuck loyally by the Rothschild family and was the only person to be painted by both Freud and Bacon


Gilbert de Botton, founding chairman of Global Asset Management and patron of the arts, was born inAlexandria, Egypt, on February 16, 1935. He died of a heart attack in France on August 27 aged 65 Gilbert de Botton, the founder and chairman of Global Asset Management (GAM), had a first-class pedigree as an investment manager and an impressive roster of wealthy clients. He described himself as a Rothschild family loyalist, and for much of his career worked with the banking family.

With 40 per cent backing from Lord Rothschild, GAM opened for business in 1983 with assets of just 1 million and during the following decade was one of the first institutions to move into Internet private banking. De Botton's skill was to combine the relationship-based approach of Swiss private banking with the greater cost transparency and performance-driven attitudes of the Anglo-Saxon financial community. He also appreciated that excellence in asset management tends to elude large, bureaucratic institutions, but is often found in smaller, independently owned boutiques. GAM established an envied reputation for its skilful investment advice

De Botton's personal beliefs had a major influence on GAM's corporate philosophy, although he was noted for his hands-off approach towards his fund managers. In a recent interview he said: "By being hands-off we let them fend for themselves. The soft edge to that is that we give them comfort and nurse them along. Part of our trade secret is that we have a balance between extreme discipline and hanging

On the day of the 1987 stock market crash he was helping a friend to celebrate her 80th birthday at his home, and did not get the news until late in the day. The party's mood darkened as calls from clients interrupted the festivities. But the guest of honour was unperturbed. "I have survived many things in
my 80 years," de Botton recalled her saying. "I will survive this, too." De Botton tried to share her sanguine assurance. "This is a major correction by bull market standards," he said. "But the underlying economics were and are good. The key is to remain fluid and confident.

De Botton exuded confidence in everything he did. He set and achieved high standards, both in his personal endeavours and his professional life. An entrepreneur and a philosopher, de Botton was as talented in action as in reflection, and everything he did was accorded the same intense energy and
focus. His staff became accustomed to receiving e-mails dispatched at 4am.

But eventually de Botton believed that for GAM to go further it needed the backing of a larger organisation, and in September last year it was sold to the Union Bank ofSwitzerland (UBS). At that time it had a clients' asset basevalued at approximately $13.9 billion, and its 500 staff served 1,100 private and 150 institutional clients. In its last financial year it had made pre-tax profits of $38 million. At
the time UBS described de Botton, who remained as chairman of GAM (UK) Ltd, as a man of "aura and mystique in the market".

De Botton was also an important collector of contemporary art, and since 1985 he had been a trustee of the Tate Gallery. He was a patron and a subject of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, the only person to sit for both artists.

Although often described as a well-connected English gentleman, Gilbert de Botton was born in Alexandria, Egypt, of Sephardic Jewish origin, and attended Victoria College, the Egyptian equivalent of Eton. He later graduated in economics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, having persuaded the authorities to admit him at the age of 16, and subsequently took a master's at Columbia in 1957.

Having acquired fluency in several languages in the process, he worked for a number of financial firms in London and New York, including S G Warburg. In 1968 he was introduced to Lord Rothschild by a mutual Italian friend, who described de Botton as "a genius". He was soon invited to set up Bank Rothschild in Zurich. He ran the operation to the benefit of the Rothschilds until 1981, when he moved to
New York to head the American branch of the family business. 

Not long after arriving in London in 1983, de Botton, a passionate admirer and collector of Picasso's late works, was introduced to the Tate, and he became one of its 12 trustees in 1985. Although he held the post only until 1992, he continued to support the gallery after that, his main contribution being to engender a more international outlook. He was instrumental in forming the Tate Gallery Foundation and chaired the Tate International Council, a group of about 100 collectors and patrons from around the world who support its work. Its first major success was to secure sufficient funding to open the Tate Gallery of the North at the Albert Dock in Liverpool.

De Botton also persuaded Bacon to donate his Triptych 1944 (Second Version) (1988) to the gallery. The Tate's Picasso exhibition of 1988 was sponsored by GAM.

As well as persuading others to support the Tate, de Botton was himself a notable donor and his generosity was recognised by the naming of the Gilbert de Botton Gallery on the fifth floor of the newly opened Tate Modern.

De Botton was passionately fond of Chaucer, and listed reading the works of the 1stcentury philosopher Seneca in Latin among his leisure activities. He was famously articulate, and those transcribing his informal business discussions found his words a pleasure to type.

Gilbert de Botton was married first in 1962 to Jacqueline Burgauer. That marriage was dissolved in 1988, and he married Janet Wolfson, also a major art collector and benefactor of the Tate, in 1990. He is survived by a son, the author Alain de Botton, and a daughter.


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