Five Minutes With Paul Meier

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Five Minutes with Paul Meier

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Paul Meier is the chairman of the Swiss Futures and Options Association (SFOA). He joined the board of SFOA in 1997 and became its chairman in 2001. Meier, now 62, will officially retire in April from his position as a director of UBS Investment Bank in Zurich, where he’s worked in management and education in the exchange-traded derivatives area since 1985. He will continue in his position at the SFOA. He spoke recently with MarketsWiki’s Christine Marie Nielsen and shared some thoughts about his life and career path.


Q: You’ve been with UBS since 1985. How do you plan to spend your retirement?

A: I’ve used some of the vacation time that I had accumulated. I’ve been traveling out of Switzerland and spending time with family. I’ve been enjoying not having an alarm clock in the morning. I’m pondering whether to do another four-year term as mayor. [Meier has also been the mayor of his village for about the last four years and a member of the municipal council for the last 16 years.] Our village has two and a half thousand people. Our main focus is finance and infrastructure It’s not the big machine of politics that Chicago is.

My focus at the SFOA is to get ready for the 30th SFOA Bürgenstock Meeting Sept. 9 to 12, 2009. Being a shoestring operation, we need all hands. We don’t have a big staff. There’s a lot of work to be done on the panels.

It’s rewarding work because we try to put up a convention that is on one hand on the proper level, but also gives attention to the individual. It is important for people to feel at home and at ease... People are at the center. The financial crisis has been all about the quick buck.


Q: What brought you to your first job in the financial industry. That was with Volkart Brothers?

A: [After finishing his schooling, he joined the international trading house of Volkart Brothers in Winterthur, which dealt mainly in coffee and cotton. Following his two-year training, he was transferred to New York to work in the administration of their machine tool division. Meier ended up staying at the company for 17 years.] I started out in machine tools, exporting machine tools. When they closed down the machine tool division in ‘73, I had found my love. [Meier is referring to his now wife Eveline - who is also Swiss and had the urge to go abroad after she finished school. Newly married in 1973, Meier wanted to stay in New York so he took a job in the coffee division of the firm. In 1975, he was given the job of building up the derivatives department for Volkart’s worldwide commodity trading network.]

I told them I have no idea what futures are, but I’ll do it. I was a one-man show.

In ’85, we had our midlife crises. We decided to rearrange our lives a bit. We quit our jobs. I went to UBS and set up a Swiss operation for UBS. [In addition to being an active trader, he also worked on internal and external education at UBS]. Fabienne was born in 1986, is a banker now and helps us out in the conference. Roger was born in 1989, recently finished his apprenticeship as a cook and is now serving his time in military service.

[After the merger of UBS and SBC in June 1998, Meier left trading. He then became active in client relations management and education for UBS.] After the merger, I took a step back. They needed someone with gray hair to pacify the clients a bit that everything would be okay.


Q: If you hadn’t gone into the financial industry, what would you have done?

A: God only knows. When I’ve taught I’ve always told people that there are always open doors. I tell people to take some risks here and there. I had no career plan.


Q: How do you anticipate things will shake out in the financial industry in the next few years?

A: It’s very hard to say. I think it will be a lot of back to basics. Work will be appreciated again. People will begin to think more long term, but when things start to settle down, the (hunger for) the quick buck will be there again…You realize though that a building needs a strong foundation.


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Q: How do you anticipate things will shake out in the financial industry in the next few years?

A: That’s the big question - how the U.S. will come out of this. All the quick fixes… I’m not sure how that’s going to work out. Markets don’t really run on fundamentals, they run on hope, greed and fear.

It’s clear the globalization is there. You have a global market, but local regulation. I’m an optimist. I think this is something in the end that will work out. It has to.


Q: You seem to have a very balanced life. What are the rules that you live by?

A: I’m open to new things, yet at the same time realizing that traditions are very important. In Bürgenstock, we try to (observe) some traditions. If we listen and work together, then things will work well. You can’t always take, sometimes you have to give. You have to be humble enough to realize that you are just one of many. I try to be as I am.