THE girl was absolutely gorgeous and I was thrilled to be chatting her up. It was about 2.30 in the morning and I sat with her in Jimmy’z in Monaco, a very expensive nightclub, drinking Cristal, a very expensive champagne. “What do you do?” she asked, music thumping in the background. I tried to adopt an air of complete coolness and proudly said, “I’m retired”. We kept chatting and about 20 minutes later she looked puzzled and said, “but you don’t seem retarded?”
At 34, I had just walked into the sunset after a 12 year career in finance. Is it the most stupid thing I have ever done? I had a spectacular record of correctly predicting big moves in the interest rate, currency and commodity markets and, by the early 90s, I was one of the highest-paid people in the world. Surely, if I had stayed in the hedge fund world, I’d be a billionaire by now. But I hadn’t and I had moved to the south of France. I wanted to escape the life of economic data and computer screens, and to enjoy a life of leisure. I bought myself a Ferrari, a 58 foot motor yacht from Ralph Schumacher, the formula one driver, and I played tennis almost daily at the Monte Carlo Country Club.
Deep down though, I was still struggling with the right balance. I had stopped being a slave to money, but I had become a slave to my possessions. After a while, the Ferrari annoyed me. It looked great, but it was damned uncomfortable and you were always worried about scratches. The stereo sucked. And while I enjoyed trips on my boat Terra Australis, going out more than once a fortnight was boring. Meanwhile, like a high maintenance mistress, it required constant care and attention. Rather than a “gin palace”, I started to see it as a floating caravan.
Friends too, were falling into the trap. They spent their riches on houses around the world, but then spent their time worrying about them. Their conversations were about getting air conditioning fixed or changing light globes, and the endless problems with domestic staff. Their standards of living were high, but their expectations often even higher. I remember a billionaire friend being extremely agitated because his private jet was 20 minutes late. He was shouting at someone on the phone; not a great way to start a family holiday. Other male friends spent their time discussing their choice of buttons on their blazers, and some were even getting manicures along with their massages.
So not long after my Jimmy’z conversation, I gradually started to change. I learnt to ski, wrote my book Taming The Lion, started playing competitive chess again, and reached out more to friends and family. At the same time, I got involved in the wonderful world of business start-ups. I realised that life is about experiences, memories and personal relationships. Now, hopefully, I’m no longer retarded, and I’ll never really retire.
Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.