New Biography, A Banker’s Journey,
Explores the Remarkable Life of Edmond J. Safra, a Leading Figure in Finance, Banking, Religion, and Philanthropy in the 20th Century
A Banker’s Journey: How Edmond J. Safra Built a Global Financial Empire
“Daniel Gross’s graceful and factual recounting of the life of the great banker and philanthropist Edmond Safra is a joy to read, and inspiring.”
—PEGGY NOONAN, The Wall Street Journal
“Edmond J. Safra’s remarkable story comes alive through the extensive research of Daniel Gross. Safra’s banking success made him a public figure, but his generosity, dignity, and integrity are what A Banker’s Journey masterfully showcases as the qualities by which he will be remembered.”
—BRYAN BURROUGH, Co-author of Barbarians at the Gate
Who was Edmond J. Safra? “The greatest banker of his generation,” in the estimation of a former World Bank President. The founder of four massive financial institutions on three continents, and a proud child of Beirut’s Jewish quarter. An innovative avatar of financial globalization, and a faithful heir to a tradition of old-world banking. The leading champion and protector of the Sephardic diaspora.
In A Banker’s Journey, financial journalist and historian Daniel Gross, who, like Safra, traces his heritage to Aleppo, Syria, reconstructs the public life of an intensely private man. With exclusive access to Safra’s personal archives, Gross tracks the banker’s remarkable journey from Beirut to Milan, São Paulo, Geneva, and New York—to the pinnacle of global finance.
Edmond Safra was fifteen in 1947, when his father sent him to establish a presence in Milan, Italy. Fluent in six languages, and with an eye for value, managing risk, and personal potential, Safra was in perpetual motion until his tragic death in 1999. The modern, global financial empire he built was based on timeless principles: a banker must protect his depositors and avoid excessive leverage and risk. In an age of busts and bailouts, Safra posted remarkable returns while rarely suffering a credit loss.
From a young age, Safra assumed the mantle of leadership in the Syrian-Lebanese Jewish community, providing personal aid, supporting the communities that formed in exile, and championing Sephardic religious and educational efforts in Israel and around the world.
Edmond J. Safra’s life of achievement in the twentieth century offers enduring lessons for those seeking to make their way in the twenty-first century. He inspired generations to make the world a better place.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Daniel Gross is one of the most widely-read writers on finance, economics, and business history. Over the past three decades, he has reported from more than thirty countries, covering everything from the dotcom boom to the global financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2008–2009.
Gross worked as a reporter at The New Republic and Bloomberg News, wrote the “Economic View” column in The New York Times, and served as Slate’s “Moneybox” columnist. At Newsweek, where he was a columnist and correspondent, he authored seven cover stories. He is a bestselling author of eight books, including Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time; Generations of Corning; Dumb Money: How America’s Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation; and Better, Stronger, Faster: The Myth of American Decline and the Rise of a New Economy.
Gross was educated at Cornell University and holds an M.A. in American history from Harvard University. His great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Aleppo and Damascus.
Extraordinary pre-publication praise from giants of finance, philanthropy, and the international Jewish community for a new biography of Edmond J. Safra:
Anyone who knew my treasured friend Edmond Safra was keenly aware that he was a remarkable person: thoughtful, welcoming, intelligent. With this definitive account of his life, a broader audience can marvel at his accomplishments, remember his enduring contributions, and carry forward the lessons of a life lived with purpose and humility.
Most readers will know Edmond J. Safra as a towering banker who helped define the modern economic era. Daniel Gross’ vibrant account will make them aware of Safra’s open-handed humanitarian instinct that stood in equal measure to his financial genius — an instinct that continues “repairing the world” to this day. His legacy of a deep and boundless commitment to family, faith and generosity holds timeless lessons for us all, no matter what journey we find ourselves on. Absorbing, highly recommended reading.
—Michael J. Fox
Edmond Safra’s extraordinary life is one of the most fascinating stories in modern finance, but the story runs much deeper than his legendary success. A Banker’s Journey captures the fullness of a man whose mind for business and appetite for adventure was matched only by his heart for giving and sense of responsibility to others. His impact continues to be felt, and now the inspiring lessons from his life will reach an even wider audience.
—Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies and Mayor of New York City, 2002-2013
Edmond Safra was a giant in the world of international finance. He was a true financial pioneer, and learning from him helped guide me as I was building my career. There is a lot to learn from reading his biography for anyone interested in finance, whether you are just starting out, or steeped in the profession.
—Henry Kravis, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman, KKR
In the life of Edmond Safra, we see the brilliance, the creativity and, most of all, the resilience of the Jewish people throughout time. Faced with obstacle after obstacle including displacement, prejudice and more, my friend, Edmond, not only survived, but excelled – beyond the dreams of most people. This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary man. Now, future generations will learn about Edmond, especially at a time when his form of integrity seems to be in short supply.
—Ronald S. Lauder, President, World Jewish Congress
Commercial banking was Edmond’s heritage and his consuming passion. At an age when most of us were thinking about what college we’d like to enter, he was sent out pretty much on his own to explore business opportunities in both Europe and America. He built his banks, made his money, and, not so incidentally, established his name the old-fashioned way. But when it came to a decision, Edmond could match any modern entrepreneur. Through it all, Edmond was strongly motivated by a more personal responsibility that couldn’t be counted in numbers.
—Paul Volcker, Chair of the Federal Reserve (1979-1987)
Edmond Safra was a remarkable leader, builder, dreamer, philanthropist, and financial services executive. I was honored to know him and work closely with him for two decades. From the moment I picked up Daniel Gross’s book, I literally, and I say literally, could not put it down. It was a fantastic journey through an incredible life. Edmond always put his company, employees, and depositors first. He cared deeply about this ‘extended family,’ and he always had their backs. Edmond was also very philanthropic, as he supported a number of religious organizations. For any aspiring business or community leader, this book is a must read. Edmond was one of the most talented leaders I have ever been around, and our world is a much better place because of him.
—Sandy Weill, Former Chairman and CEO of Citigroup
This is an extraordinary book about a remarkable man. Edmond J. Safra may be best known as an immensely successful global financier, but he was a person of many significant qualities: devoted to his family, his faith, and to the deep value of education for individuals from many backgrounds. He gave generously to several universities, and the story of his life is now told in an exceptional way, with fine scholarly detail that makes vivid all the humane aspects of this exceptional human being.
—Neil L. Rudenstine, President Emeritus, Harvard University
Upon meeting Edmond Safra for the first time fifty years ago I was immediately struck by his complete and total dedication to the safety and security of his bank’s depositors and also by his deep and sincere admiration of America as a land of opportunity. Although many consider him to have been the greatest banker of the 20th century, he never lost his sense of modesty nor his belief that success must be built upon trustworthiness and compassion. This is a book that must be read.
—Arthur Levitt Jr., Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (1993-2001)
Edmond Safra was truly unique, founding four banks on three continents – all of them successful. To start Republic National Bank of New York and grow it into a thriving institution in one of the world’s most competitive markets was an extraordinary achievement, and he repeated this success again and again around the world. He was the rare combination of conservative banker and brilliant, thoughtful risk-taker. Edmond cared deeply for his staff and his clients, and, perhaps above all, he changed the lives of millions of people through the help he gave to schools, hospitals, and other causes. He was inspirational and an example to us all, and I am delighted that his story is finally being told.
—Sir John Bond, Group Chairman HSBC Holdings (1998-2006)
The lessons to be learned from following Edmond Safra’s career are remarkable. He shaped a generation of young, serious, and brilliant bankers, and this book is a can’t-miss for those who are entering the banking world.
—Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
Edmond Safra’s life and career were unique in many ways. A daring entrepreneur and successful banker, he created an innovative, prosperous, and respected financial network around the world. An aesthete, collector, and great patron of the arts, he had an inexhaustible curiosity that embraced many areas. As a philanthropist, he left his mark on the 20th century by actively committing himself to numerous causes with faith, attention, and discipline. I am delighted that Daniel Gross’s biography goes through the different stages of Edmond’s rich life and pays tribute to an extraordinary man.
“He is like a tree planted beside the streams of water which yields its fruit in season whose leaves shall not fade. In all that he does he prospers.” These words from Psalm 1:3, carved in stone at Somerset House, are displayed in honour of Edmond. His philanthropy to many institutions and good causes across the world were achieved by this modest, sensitive and extraordinary man, “primus inter pares” in the generation of Sephardic Jews who left the Middle East after the Second World War, to establish themselves with immense success in the wider world as men of business.
Edmond used his exceptional talents to create and build banking businesses which spanned more than thirty countries across the globe; in addition, he inherited from his parents a sense of duty and obligation to the Jewish community who were to him an extended family. The range of support he gave to his people and the wide range of institutions is beyond belief – and at the same time, in addition to his commercial success and his prodigious generosity, he was able, helped at all times by his wife Lily, to become a connoisseur and collector of fine arts of extraordinary quality.
It is timely that a book is now being published to describe the achievements of this brilliant man whose personality and character touched all of us who were fortunate enough to have known and admired him. Edmond’s remarkable life will now be recorded and celebrated by future generations. The sadness is of a life tragically lost to us at too young an age, but this book will enable us to make the life of Edmond imperishable in our memory. It is a remarkable story which will be an example to us all.
—Lord Rothschild (Jacob)
“To my husband who has given me so much, his devotion to our grandchildren, his presence at all times, not only for me and them but for so many others, a father to his brothers and sisters, a loyal friend to so many throughout the world, together, we try to keep our heads high to fight for life and hope, to fight the battles in the name of justice. May our almost seven grandchildren achieve in their lives the values and ideals that you have taught them. You fulfill the essence of a human being. You are kind, decent, a man with no vanity, a humble man. Thank you, Edmond, for sharing these years with me.”
—Lily Safra, (December 30, 1934—July 9, 2022), spoken at a 1999 memorial service for Edmond J. Safra
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