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'Do not get up. Drink Champagne'

Max Siebenmann was an amazing businessman. Using those piercing eyes of his and his stern, unsmiling stare, he intimidated bankers and brokers into buying our services. Inviting no questions and certainly no interruptions he would go through his presentation of Stockmaster, Videomaster, Monitor, Dealing or what-have-you at the end of which he would helpfully point to where they had to sign. And they did - by the hundreds. 

His dealings with Head Office ("those idiots from London") were even more trenchant and you made sure you had your facts absolutely right before inviting him to co-operate. British quirkiness was a source of amazement to him. I remember John Lawrenson (then European manager) deciding one afternoon "to get a feel for what is going on". So he gets me (his deputy at that time) to order Max to a 0900 meeting the next morning. Imperturbable as ever, Max acknowledges my message, books his flight from Zurich, wakes up well before dawn and enters my office at 0855. We both then enter John's office. 

John goes through his welcoming peppermints drill: gets a packet of peppermints from his drawer and presents it to Max and me across the desk. "Peppermints?"

Two polite refusals. 

So John pops a peppermint into his mouth, lies back in his seat, hands behind his head, looks at Max and says: “Speak".

The tiniest of raised eyebrows appears on Max's face. He looks across at me, with by now one more raised eyebrow. I cowardly refuse to get involved and I smile at him - standard Head Office tactic.

After the meeting Max goes for my jugular: "Is zis man completely crazy? He gets me to come from Zurich in ze middle of ze night, doesss not tell me what it isss about, he offers me a peppermint and zen says ‘Speak’. Are you people here completely stupid or what?", he enquired. I confessed that it did help to be so - in a Head Office environment. That's how one gets promoted.

I last saw Max at the Reuter Society meeting in Geneva in 2009 and we regaled ourselves with that and a million other stories. We could have stayed for many more days and we were due to have breakfast together on the last day. Unfortunately he had to get back to Zurich in a hurry so he arranged for a bottle of Champagne to be delivered to my room before breakfast. It had a note from him which said: "Do not get up. Drink Champagne." 

I did - and I will do so again, in his memory, on 1 June.

PHOTO: At a Head Office gathering convened by John Ransom (from L to R): André Villeneuve, Max Bouckalter, Daniel Fogel, Denis Lyons, John Ransom, Max Siebenmann, John Albanie, Iain Smith and David Ure. ■