x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

From the desk of Rupert Wright: Bankers, Twitter and right turns

Focus: Twitter is either a delicious way to waste time or a tremendous opportunity to hear the news first and interact with people you would struggle to talk to in a normal month.

It was good to see my old pal Stephen Jennings, the head of Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment bank, mixing it with Stephen Sackur on the BBC's HARDtalk this week.

I first met him in Moscow in the heady days of the 1990s, when the city was booming and he and his colleague Boris Jordan were ruling the roost, but also in 1998, when the party had ended abruptly with the sudden collapse of the rouble.

He cut a rather forlorn figure then, as if history had moved on, leaving him stuck in the Russian capital when everybody else had retreated. Mr Jordan had left to set up the Sputnik Group, but Jennings was right to tough it out. When commodities, especially oil, started to boom again, he was well placed to benefit. His bank went into a number of ventures and, as he mentioned on the BBC programme, Renaissance Group is now the largest exporter of timber products to China. Not that it has all been straightforward. The financial crisis in 2008 caught Renaissance on the wrong side of a number of deals, but a swift injection of funds from Onexim Group, which bought a 50 per cent stake for US$500 million (Dh1.83m), kept them afloat. It was probably a terrific investment. Renaissance is also very active in emerging markets, and leading the scramble for Africa with offices in Lagos, Harare and Nairobi among others. Some people find it curious that somebody from New Zealand, the most transparent country in the world, is doing business in some of the murkiest markets. Mr Sackur was especially not impressed by Mr Jennings' involvement in Zimbabwe. His response was to point out Africa needed investment and trade flows. "The old, aid-driven model is clearly broken," he said. And elsewhere, he has pointed out a rather startling statistic: in 1970, per capita GDP in China was less than that of Africa's. Don't bet against him.

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In the car the other day my wife decided to book our summer flights to Europe on the hands-free device. She phoned Emirates - unfortunately Etihad does not fly to Rome - and we implored the children to be silent while the call was in progress.

The phone rang, and was then picked up by a recorded message. "Welcome to Emirates Airlines," said a lady. "For first and business class, press one, for economy press two." A voice from the back piped up: "Press one, Mummy."

It was the 10-year-old. Not only is she quick and funny, but even at such a tender age she is prepared to dislike anybody who makes her turn to the right when she gets on a plane.

We may have to send her unaccompanied, in the hope that by the time we next meet up she has forgotten about the injustice.

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I have spent most of the week on Twitter. It is either a delicious way to waste time or a tremendous opportunity to hear the news first and interact with people you would struggle to talk to in a normal month, either for matters of geography or because of a lack of access. Sepp Blatter has occupied much of the airwaves, but he has learnt the lesson of the Arab Spring: if you tough it out, people will struggle to unseat you. And it also proves once and for all that social media did not cause the Arab Spring, although it did perhaps facilitate it. Blatter has ignored #Blatterout and #Fifafail. For more, you can follow me on twitter.com/rupertus.

rwright@thenational.ae