In the early 1980s, Nick Leeson landed a job as a clerk with royal bank Coutts, followed by a string of jobs with other banks, ending up with Barings, where he quickly made an impression and was promoted to the trading floor.
Before long, he was appointed manager of a new operation in futures markets on the Singapore Monetary Exchange (SIMEX) and was soon making millions for Barings by betting on the future direction of the Nikkei Index. His bosses back in London, who viewed with glee his large profits, trusted the whiz kid. Leeson and his wife Lisa seemed to have everything: a salary of £50,000 with bonuses of up to £150,000, weekends in exotic places, a smart apartment and frequent parties and to top it all they even seemed to be very much in love.
Barings believed that it wasn't exposed to any losses because Leeson claimed that he was executing purchase orders on behalf of a client. What the company did not realise is that it was responsible for error account 88888 where Leeson hid his losses. This account had been set up to cover up a mistake made by an inexperienced team member, which led to a loss of £20,000. Leeson now used this account to cover his own mounting losses.
As the losses grew, Leeson requested extra funds to continue trading, hoping to extricate himself from the mess by more deals. Over three months he bought more than 20,000 futures contracts worth about $180,000 each in a vain attempt to move the market. Some three quarters of the $1.3 billion he lost Barrings resulted from these trades. When Barings executives discovered what had happened, they informed the Bank of England that Barings was effectively bust. In his wake Nick Leeson had wiped out the 233 year old Baring investment Bank, who proudly counted HM The Queen as a client. The $1.3 billion dollars of liabilities he had run up was more than the entire capital and reserves of the bank.
Eventually arrested in Frankfurt, Germany, Nick spent a few fraught months trying to escape extradition to Singapore. He failed and in December 1995 a court in Singapore sentenced him to six and a half years in prison. His wife Lisa got a job as an air hostess to be able to visit him regularly. At first, their marriage survived the strain of being apart, but what Lisa could not abide were his revelations of his infidelity with Geisha girls and she divorced him. Within months, Leeson was diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the colon. His weight plummeted and most of his hair fell out from chemotherapy.
Finally released in 1999, and despite his return to the UK bringing a realisation that the high life had been swept away - he was effectively homeless and without a job - Nick enjoyed a fairly hedonistic first year seeing friends and family but also continuing his cancer treatment.
Nick Leeson has proved his resilience and has been able to capitalise on his experiences. He was paid a substantial fee for the newspaper serialisation of his book Rogue Trader in The Mail. The story was then turned into a film of the same name starring Ewan McGregor. During 2001 he undertook a degree in psychology and Nick now spends much of his time presenting talks to companies on risk management and undertaking after-dinner and conference speaking based on his life experiences.
Nick married Irish beautician Leona Tormay and after trying for a baby they were delighted when, in 2004, Leona gave birth to a baby boy. Nick comments: 'I'm of the mindset that cancer must not take you over and control your life. I do believe that the more positive you are, the greater your chance of survival.' His advice to others is never to bottle up stress as he himself did: 'You need to talk and express yourself as I now do to Leona. With cancer as with other problems, it's amazing how adaptable human beings are, and you will be able to cope provided you keep a strong frame of mind.'
In April 2005 Nick was appointed Commercial Manager of Galway United Football Club, rising to the position of General Manager in late November 2005. The same year Nick published his second book, Back from the Brink: Coping with Stress, co-written with psychologist Ivan Tyrell. July 2007 saw his appointed as CEO of Galway United FC, a position he held until his resignation in February 2011. Nick remains a shareholder and continues to represent the club with the Football Association of Ireland.
Nick Leeson travels from United Kingdom
"As a non-profit association, we really appreciated the generosity of Saxton in assisting with this booking at short notice and accommodating our tight budget."
NSW EEO Practitioners' Association
Subscribe to our newsletter