The directors of the Bank of Bermuda were seduced by the Middle East. Back in 1996 there was a clear choice between Bahrain, a solid and safe developed centre for banking and then Dubai which although was slow to develop no doubt had big expansion plans. There were pros and cons of course but after the war in Lebanon, Bahrain had made a great play of their communications links through Cable and Wireless. This was a vital piece of the puzzle as to why anyone would even contemplate the Gulf.
The first part of the plan was to find an office, suitable clients and a house for me to live in and a secretary. The first effort was to book a space and with contacts at Savills the 6th Floor at the Sheraton was chosen. I was travelling and working from with a ‘design book’ issued by our Executive Office that described everything from the colour of the carpets to the livery of bank cars, curtain material recommended and furniture design.
In the souk or local market tradesmen were employed and although teak was the wood required according to the bank standard, I thought that some basic wood, stained would suffice for all our desks and boardroom table. A huge copy portrait of the Queen was delivered from the National Gallery to underline our credentials. The front door however needed to be reinforced in case of attack and the bank logo had to be acid etched. It weighed a ton which was good practice for the gangs of Indian workers in moving it up as now in our new office the last tenant Citibank had left a safe, so huge and bulky it had to be cut to bits with acetylene torches and almost dropped down the lift shaft.
The bank then decided to fly out their own telephone engineer, a lovely fellow called David Wong. He spent days under desks wiring up party lines, secure cables and the facsimile machine. The next guest to arrive from Bermuda was the Head Chef who was to advise on the opening dinner menu even though that was a few months away. A secretary Rebecca was hired and she was the all powerful force keeping us all together. Any other staff at this stage were not considered but we had not reckoned with the Red Shadow.
Chandran, or the Red Shadow named after the silent assassin in Jewel in the Crown was an Indian from Kerala. All offices in the Gulf have their Chandra’s whose job was to get the mail from the P O Box, keep the coffee machine full, sweep and hoover and keep the petty cash. But I did not want him to keep the cash, just keep it safe but that is another story.
He had told me that you can trust a cobra, but not a Keralan, how true that was in the end.
It was all coming together as my home furniture was ordered from Peter Jones in London with no expense limit and our client base was beginning to grow as we worked towards the official opening date.
On one occasion I had to entertain the new CEO of the Bank, Henry. He insisted on seeing the Magic Kingdom or Saudi Arabia as it is known officially. Saudia Airlines do not ever upgrade on overbooked flights, just downgrades and we were stuck one very hot afternoon in Al-Khobar airport on route to Taif. These airports had no shops, just prayer halls and carts selling white bread cheese sandwiches. I watched horrified as Henry disappeared to the workman’s toilets only for him to dash out a few minutes later looking rather ill. He of course had only really experienced Bermuda, Geneva, New York and London so he was unprepared as he squatted with a rusting hose pipe and no paper.
‘What is the pipe for?’ he asked me and without thinking I said, ‘the mouth-wash perhaps?’
I am not sure he enjoyed the rest of the journey. Soon, the week of the party came and an hour before the office door opened and in barged a badly dressed large Russian lady with no teeth who announced herself as the daughter of Burgess and maybe even Maclean and her two burly muscle men. Their shirts were bursting at the buttons and they all wanted an offshore account.
I had my first clients.