Baroness Ariane de Rothschild

She is Switzerland’s most powerful lady banker, Baroness Arriane De Rothschild occupies the second highest position in the Edmond De Rothschild group.

I-MAGAZINE decided to get to know her better.

She is Switzerland’s most powerful lady banker, Baroness Arriane De Rothschild occupies the second highest position in the Edmond De Rothschild group, I-MAGAZINE decided to get to know her better.

The Rothschild dynasty has a new face and it belongs to a woman, Ariane de Rothschild, wife of Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. A seasoned financier, the ‘‘banker’s wife’’ has become the lady banker of the Edmond de Rothschild Group since 2008, when she was elected to its main boards of directors. Ariane de Rothschild, a French and German dual national, embodies a new role model of female success. One thing is certain: the next head of the dynasty will be a woman as well, because Ariane and Benjamin have four daughters. At present the young Baroness is showing them the way through her active involvement in all the Group’s entities.

Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild SA, the Group headquarters in the heart of Geneva’s banking district, features a plush atmosphere exuded by its rich tapestries, antique furniture and gourmet cooking. But it also sports ultra-modern works of art that were handpicked by Baroness Benjamin de Rothschild. She is the epitome of modernness, as illustrated by her office in rue de Hollande (a swanky district in Geneva). Lovely, at 45 she has been Vice-Chairwoman of the group’s holding company since last November and has become her husband’s indispensable right-hand lad. This is her first interview with English (or British) journalists.

They met in 1993 when she, still Ariane Langner, was 28 years old. Trained as a currency trader, she became a new breed of business leader. Reminiscing on her brilliant and atypical career, she notes, ‘‘It’s unusual to see a husband and wife at the head of a company, but that’s how we envisage family capitalism.’’

Shared Responsibilities

The Baroness admires her husband for his trailblazing spirit and for his confidence in her. ‘‘I’m lucky to have a husband who wanted to share his responsibilities with me’’ she observes. Baron Benjamin presides over the Group and helps devise its strategy.  ‘‘He has an original approach to business’’, Ariane de Rothschild tells us. Interviewed by i-MAGAZINE a year ago, the most powerful of the Rothschild’s had shown the same straight – forward rapport with people and things that his wife shows now. He is exceptionally gifted, intuitive and quick-minded. We ask her if that means other bankers, he should never be underestimated, Ariane   de Rothschild cautions misunderstand him. ‘‘When his father died, the financial group that he inherited employed 600 people as against 2700 today. Assets under management and administration rocketed from CHF 20 billion to CHF 143 billion at end-2009.’’ Gratified by this phenomenal growth but reluctant to see his schedule tied up with overly frequent appointments, Benjamin de Rothschild needed someone to act as his deputy at board meetings. His wife was the ideal candidate.

Ariane de Rothschild surprises us at every turn with her natural authority, her youthfulness and her technical knowledge. She has an accent that one cannot put a finger on but reflects a mix of her childhood in Latin America, her French-German origins, her teen years in Africa and her studies in the United States—a profile as global as today’s Edmond de Rothschild Group.

A Natural Number Two

‘‘I met Benjamin through work’’, the Baroness confides, ‘‘but there was no telling at the outset that I would assume responsibilities within the Group.’’ She began by dealing with the group’s non-banking activities (wine-making, hotels, art), developing them and thus demonstrating her acute business sense. But very soon she and her husband were thinking in dynastic terms. ‘‘What matters to us most,’’ she explains, ‘‘is that the Group survives and remains under family control’’.

And so it was that her skills and experience thrust her naturally into the number two spot. Besides, she points out, ‘‘it would have been silly for me to go and work for another bank.’’ Their roles are clearly distinguished: Benjamin de Rothschild maps out overall strategy while Ariane de Rothschild sees it is implemented. ‘‘I’m much more available than Benjamin, so people see me more than they see him,’’ she says, adding that they discuss important matters together. She has his confidence, but he always has the last word.

She has considerable latitude and the kind of global view that is needed so that all of the Group entities reinforce each other. That’s what the family motto  ‘‘Concordia, Integritas, Industria’’ means.  She acknowledges being well aware of the privileged position and obligations attaching to the role of controlling shareholder.

Four Daughters A Blessing

One thing is certain as far as the future is concerned: the family bank will one day be presided over by a woman, i.e. by one or more of the couple’s four daughters, now aged 7 to 14. ‘‘I show them the way, and that’s highly important,’’ says their mother in all modesty. The revolution is indeed under way. Four daughters are ‘a blessing’, claims Ariane de Rothschild, adding, ‘‘we are parting with the tradition that insisted only males could perpetuate a dynasty.’’ The survival of the Rothschild name is not an issue either, since the daughters may very well decide to keep their maiden name. And Swiss law will allow future descendants to take their mother’s name. At home ‘‘we have discussions with our children’’, Ariane de Rothschild confides. ‘‘I tell them about my day at work. What I want to instill in them is a sense of responsibility.’’ For the Baroness nothing could come more naturally. ‘‘Like my daughters now,’’ she says.

‘‘Being rich means being responsible, you have to set and example and work harder’’

In addition to rearing them, she is handing down the Rothschild’s’ principles and values. These ‘‘may appear outmoded, but they are essential. They include the work ethic, respect and, above all, an understanding that being part of a dynasty also entails doing one’s duty.’’ Ariane de Rothschild points out that it is easier for four children to shoulder an enormous legacy than it is for one. Summing up her view on money, which is the family’s view as well, she asserts that ‘‘being rich means being responsible.

You have to set an example and work even harder. And it takes a lot of work, not only to stay rich but also to make sure that the next generation has the proper upbringing to perpetuate the family’s success. Actually, this all goes far beyond money; it’s heritage we’re talking about.’’ We ask Ariane de Rothschild what she, as a woman, contributes to the family business. ‘‘A different view of time,’’ she replies. ‘‘Sustainable development is a gathering force that will ultimately prevail.