The Natural

The Natural

How one high school football star, economics major, ex-IT manager, Red Sox fan, proponent of a "no-jerks" policy, and kids' baseball coach has risen to the top of international banking

By Gerry Boyle '78


 

“My father always said, ‘Every day, you have to learn some and teach some.’ I’m a firm believer in that to this day. I learn every day, and I teach every day.”

—Bob Diamond ’73

Succeeding in this intensely competitive world of international finance is a fervent believer in liberal arts education, who, with his wife, Jennifer, moved daughter Nell to an American-style high school in London when the English school she was attending, in keeping with the British education system, tried to narrow her options.

“Some people know right away what they want to do,” Diamond said. “Others take longer.”

When did he decide?

“I still haven’t decided,” he said, grinning. Then he added, “Actually, I fell into it accidentally.”

The same could be said of Diamond’s decision to attend Colby.

He was “the younger brother in the back seat” when his parents took his sister Christine to see colleges. Christine Diamond didn’t end up at Colby, but her younger brother made his decision then and there—when he saw the athletic facilities, he said.

A star linebacker on the Concord-Carlisle High School football team, Diamond was also a top student academically, intensely competitive on the field and in the classroom. Said his sister, Rue, a freshman at Concord-Carlisle High when her older brother was a senior, “Although I sort of sit and shake my head and say, ‘How can this be my brother?’, I’m not surprised that Bob has achieved what he has achieved. He has been an extremely intense person his whole life.”

Diamond went off to Colby and as a first-year was assigned to a vacant room in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. He ultimately pledged the fraternity, played varsity football and freshman baseball (an injury ended his sports career sophomore year), and established friendships that have continued ever since. Phi Delt, as it was known, had a jock faction and a hippie faction, said Jeff Lawrence ’72, and Diamond leaned toward the jocks—and the books, though unobtrusively. “I know the first time I paid attention to him academically was when I went down to see him and he was hitting it out of the park at UConn,” said Lawrence, now a lobbyist for the aerospace industry. “I was kind of struck by it because I never thought of him as a bad student or a good student. I just thought of him as my pal.”

That pal may not have talked economic models in the frat house, but Diamond was absorbing them in the classroom.

“You have people who do have the immediate grasp of economic analysis,” said Hank Gemery, Pugh Family Professor of Economics, emeritus. “They just fall right into it.”

And Diamond?

“A very quick grasp,” Gemery said. “That was apparent right at the start.”

Several of Gemery’s students have gone on to great success in finance—the late Edson Mitchell ’75, who transformed Deutsch Bank before his death in a plane crash in 2000, comes immediately to mind. But, while he expects his strongest students to perform very well professionally, Gemery said it is difficult to know who will rise to the top of financial institutions, where grasp of economic concepts and markets gets you in the door but not to the corner office. As Gemery points out, running an investment bank also requires the ability to build a team. “It’s not a solo performance,” he said.

Another clue, this one from fraternity brother Lawrence. He and Diamond shared a passion for the Red Sox, he said, and enjoyed a social life that revolved around weekend frat parties, as was generally the case in that era at Colby. But Lawrence also recalls that Diamond had a gift for drawing people to him. “I always thought it was the Irish gift—these guys who are glib and have a very embracing personality like Bob always did. You always wanted to hang around with him.”

It’s a quality that followed Diamond to UConn, said Viega, who taught business courses in organizational behavior. Not only did Diamond master the material (exploring notions of meritocracy in business organizations, a principle that remains one of the tenets of his management philosophy today), but he also excelled in classroom exercises that focused on students’ leadership skills. “That’s when you see how the other peers interact with them,” Viega said. “And the thing that I remember vividly about Bob was that people really looked up to him. He was just a natural leader to the group.”

The natural leader didn’t move into management from UConn, however. Instead he was hired by Bill Cooke, then head of IT at U.S. Surgical. While his classmates were opting for jobs with more prestige and bigger paychecks, Diamond chose a training program geared more for entry-level employees with bachelor’s degrees than for newly minted MBAs.

“I believe Bob got one of the lowest paying jobs out of all the graduates of the UConn MBA program,” Cooke said. “He liked the conceptual design of the program, which was you start really low and you’re constantly pushed to learn more and more and more and to be able to take on additional responsibility. I think his first job was third-shift computer operator.”

But Diamond didn’t stay on the third shift for long.

He learned how to program and within three months was running all three shifts in the computer room. That was followed by a year running customer service. Then Cooke left U.S. Surgical for Wall Street, where firms were moving into new technology. Diamond went with him. “He was the first guy I took to Morgan Stanley,” Cooke said.

Diamond ran the administrative end of IT at Morgan Stanley for a year. Then the chief financial officer needed an administrator and Cooke recommended Diamond. After two years with the CFO, Diamond moved to the trading floor, working in government bonds. It was a big jump, one that put him at the bottom of the ladder in a job with a very different skill set.

 
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