The Feel Of Rain
The PEAK Singapore|November 2020
The secret to star investment banker Keith Magnus’ success cannot be found in the numbers, data or a fact sheet.
Farhan Shah

It was just a simple trishaw ride. But in those 15 minutes of trundling along the gravelled street, a young boy learned the ingredients to a life well-lived. Keith Magnus did not need the trishaw. His mother and sister were a street away, piloting a car that would have been a faster mode of transportation. “However, my father noticed that a particularly elderly rider had fewer customers than the rest,” he reminisces. Age had robbed the old man of his strength and speed, so most opted for the younger, more able-bodied riders around him.

Hence, almost every weekend after dinner, Magnus and his father would head to Chinatown and search for this uncle (local parlance for an older man). Then they would board his trishaw. On arrival at their destination, the senior Magnus would pay him above and beyond the usual rate for his service. On special occasions, they would bring him gifts.

Magnus also remembers the times when his father would take him to lunch at the Singapore Cricket Club, a popular stomping ground for the legal fraternity. “Rain or shine, the car park attendant would be there, hard at work. My father always ordered an ice-cold can of Coke and a meal for him before we tucked into ours.”

A family trip to London became another stage for another important life lesson. It was in the middle of December and the city was dark, damp and frigid. Realising that they didn’t have gloves, Magnus and his father stopped at a store where a pair was “about £25”. With the strong British pound at the time, they were looking at paying more than S$70 for one set. It was a ridiculous price. So, they bought a pair and took turns wearing a glove each, alternating between one hand in the pocket and the other in a glove.

RISE OF A BANKING SAVANT

These three anecdotes, and the many other happy memories they made, honed the two qualities – dignity and empathy – Magnus now uses as guiding lights in his life.

The 47-year-old is the co-chairman of Asia at Evercore, the world’s largest independent investment bank, and a member of its global management committee. For the latter, he was appointed in 2019 and remains one of the few Asians to make it to the big leagues of a top Wall Street investment banking firm. In 2019, Evercore’s advisory revenues totalled US$1.74 billion (S$2.35 billion), placing it among the top investment banking advisory firms alongside Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

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