- The Guardian,
- Friday April 11, 2008
It all began with algebra on the train and stock market games at home. The three Latif brothers, who were taught by their father and showed an early interest in finance, have all turned into young high-fliers in the world of banking.
Their family was uprooted from their home in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein invaded in 1990 and first settled in Pakistan. With their father doing much of his business in London and Paris, the brothers - Zachary, Zain and Rehan - were educated on the move.
They went to business schools at the same time and studied the same degrees, then all landed jobs at highly competitive investment banks in the City. It was clear early on that all three would end up in finance though they are far from typical bankers. Born in Kuwait to a Pakistani father and Iranian mother they belong to the Baha'i faith. They graduated five years ago with masters degrees from the Cass Business School, Zachary at the age of 18, Zain at 19 and Rehan at 20. They then landed jobs at highly competitive investment banks in the City. They still live in the four-floor family home in west London.
"Our father was obviously very much involved in investing and finance and we would always have CNBC [the TV business channel] playing in the background," said Zain at his father's office in Park Lane, London. "Growing up in a finance dominated environment, we obviously aspired to be involved in it."
Iqbal, their father, runs a real estate investment firm. "They are a role model for other young children from ethnic minorities," he said. "I wanted them to be not only good bankers but also good human beings."
Zain, who became one of the youngest vice presidents in the City last year when he joined Merrill Lynch, believes he was the most interested in finance as a child. When he was 12 he created a stock market game based on the Wall Street Journal and Barron's which the three played at home.
They had an unorthodox education, the product of their nomadic lifestyle, adopted after the family fled from Kuwait, driving through war-torn Iraq and Iran to Pakistan. Zach said: "We were an itinerant family. We didn't have fixed roots and were out of school for much longer than we were in school."
Zain added: "The notion that we would go to boarding school was simply not on the cards. My parents firmly believe that education begins at home. My father was very much a believer in the Greek way of teaching - which is more discussing, reading, searching for knowledge, than a strict curriculum."
Iqbal said: "I thought they were underperforming in school. I took my lead from Aristotle, Socrates, Plato."
They were encouraged to read widely and join in lively discussions at the dinner table. The family regularly hosts big dinner parties.
Over time, the trio were taught economics, business and finance by their father, and English, mathematics, and accounting by their mother. Other subjects were taught by tutors, though science fell by the wayside through lack of interest. In the afternoons, they were sent out to mingle with other children and play cricket.
Zach recalled a pivotal moment. "Once when we were visiting family, my father used the opportunity of the train ride to teach Rehan algebra. Out of boredom Zain and I were just looking on and after a while my father realised we were grasping the concepts as well." The idea of home schooling came to him.
The boys were inseparable and did everything together, from learning at home to studying for undergraduate degrees at Westminster Business School, then masters degrees in banking and international finance at Cass.
Only then did their ways part. Zach became a trader and joined Dresdner Kleinwort before being head-hunted by Nomura followed by TD Securities. Zain did internships at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan before joining HSBC, then Merrill Lynch. He will soon start a new job at Goldman. Rehan started at a consulting firm before moving to Morgan Stanley as a trader, where he still works.
The turmoil in global markets is the first big financial crisis their generation has experienced and has transformed the atmosphere in the City. "There is a lot more concern, restraint, in the City," Zain said. "It is a learning experience for a lot of bankers of my generation and all of us are hoping that we can go through this unscathed ... financial shocks happen every so often. For the time being, it's very difficult for anyone to judge where this one is going."
Zach said: "It keeps me on my toes, it keeps the entire City on its toes. It teaches us excessive greed can be a bad thing. It has a moral component to it. We're not immortal, we're not gods ... it also shows how interlinked we all are."
Like his father, Zach likes to debate the big issues in life on his blog, which he started when he was 15. There has been little sign of rebellion by the three. But Zach is perhaps the quirkiest; he flirted with Buddhism and became a vegetarian at one point. He is an avid reader who peppers his talk with quotations and incessantly buys second-hand books on Amazon. He used to run a debating club on Saturdays and has plans to revive it.
Like their parents all three belong to the Baha'i faith, but Zach described the family creed as humanism. While the trio enjoy eating out and going to nightclubs, their lifestyle is far less conspicuous than that of other City figures notorious for splashing out on fast cars and luxury homes. Rather than buy a Ferrari, Zain acquired a Ford Fiesta four years ago.
True to his father's entrepreneurial spirit, Zain is pouring some of his own money into young businesses such as the personal assistance firm Virtual Bluebird, and is thinking about setting up a venture with his father.
After joining HSBC's graduate programme and following stints in New York and Hong Kong, Zain returned to London where he helped set up an illiquid assets group for emerging markets. Looking for opportunities in Africa, he achieved his first big success arranging a deal that gave FCMB, a leading Nigerian bank, access to millions of dollars for investment in the burgeoning sub-Saharan economy.
It was the first agreement of its kind in Africa and unheard of at HSBC - which Zain described as a "lumbering giant". Since then, Zain has been making regular trips to Nigeria, continuing his role in the emerging markets, specialising in Africa at Merrill Lynch.
Looking to the future, he says he is keen to get involved in Pakistan and Iran, once those countries open up to foreign investment.
While Zach once boasted that he was making more money than both his brothers combined (this has since changed), the brothers claim that sibling rivalry is not the driving force behind their success.
"Ordinarily you would see a lot of competition between twins or triplets who are in the same grade. We never had those issues. We would help each other and study together. Whilst we had our own brotherly fights we could see the bigger picture of what we were trying to achieve," Zain said. "I can safely say that the success that we've had is mostly due to the fact that we were so united in our common cause."
At university the precocious siblings sometimes found it hard to get along with students aged four or five years older than themselves, but they say they never felt isolated, unlike some undergraduates under the age of 16. "We were always together, never alone," Zain said. Now age is less of a problem. They see the City as a "meritocratic" place. "When you reach a certain level people don't care who you are - you need to produce," Zain said.
The siblings are also keen to dispel the negative image of young Middle Eastern men in the media.
Zain defended the often sky-high pay packages the City gives. "It is a very ruthless environment and people need to be rewarded for it. It's a bit like footballers. Footballers do make incredible amounts of money but they have a limited lifespan. This is also the case with bankers; it's risk and reward. The risk is that you can lose your job very quickly, there is a lot of stress, long hours, a culture of 'man-eat-man'. The pay is there to reflect the fact that people are taking all these risks and succeeding."
The brothers have taken part in events for the City of London Careers in the City (where advisers talk to students) to dispel the glamorous view of banking held by some youngsters and tell them it's mostly hard graft.
The three remain very close, share many friends and play football together on Sunday mornings in Hyde Park. But there are differences: Zach is more of an intellectual, while Zain and Rehan have excelled at cricket. Zain and Rehan, like their father, love to travel; Zach prefers to stay put in London. Taking advantage of his gardening leave before he joins Goldman Sachs in June as an executive director in emerging markets, Zain has set off on a round-the-world trip with his fiancée. After his wedding in Barcelona this summer he will be the first of the trio to leave the family home.
Is he sad? Not particularly. "The strong relationship will continue and indeed I am looking forward to building my own life with my partner," Zain said.
Born December 15 1984
Education (for all three brothers)
2002 BA business studies, Westminster Business School. 2003 MSc banking and international finance, Cass Business School
2003 Dresdner Kleinwort graduate programme, sales and trading
2004 Nomura International
2007 TD Securities credit trader
Born November 28 1983
2004 HSBC graduate analyst class
2007 Merrill Lynch vice-president in emerging markets
2008 Goldman Sachs executive director in the emerging markets division
Born November 2 1982
2003 Certus Consulting
2004 Morgan Stanley trader