Decoding a Found Marketing Gift of Yore
By Peter Hazou (Manufacturers Hanover/Chase 1978-1996)
In the summer of 1983, I had the pleasure of moving to Beirut to become the acting representative of our office while our permanent rep, Vahak Tahmazian, was away on holiday. I had been covering the Lebanese market from New York as a "desk officer" since I joined Manufacturers Hanover in 1978 and I was keen to spend more time there beyond the occasional business trip.
We had a flourishing business in those days serving the international needs of 40 or so correspondent banks. This consisted mostly of Dollar wire transfers that clients transmitted to New York in error-prone unformatted cables (the norm before machine-readable Swift messages modernized that process), plus a lucrative trade finance business that boomed in the eastern Mediterranean as Lebanon was the entrépôt for the entire Levant. And of course, there was the weekly courier service that dispatched U.S. drawn cheques for clearing and settlement through New York Clearinghouse. It was a big business in those days.
Chemical Bank and Irving Trust (now part of BNY Mellon) both had local Representative offices and were pretty much in the same business, whilst Chase Manhattan and Morgan Guaranty had branch lending operations – Morgan through its well-run subsidiary the Bank Al-Marshrek.
The summer I spent in Beirut was fascinating. The Lebanese banks, then as now, were engaged in very traditional retail and small business banking, and it was a fabulous place for a young banker to learn the ropes of how banks really worked. My favorite activity was trade finance, where the Lebanese were the masters at facilitating commerce through the documentary chain of Letters of Credit. There was lots of business as we jostled and competed in a deeply people-oriented business where contacts, networking and goodwill determined success.
In 1983 we had just completed the move to our new offices in the Gefinor Center from our first home in the BIT building on Riad Sohl Street, the traditional pre-war banking district that had become unsafe due to its unfortunate positioning on the Green line that divided Beirut. As a consequence of this move, our office manager, Nadra Breir, and I spent a lot of time setting up the new office and moving around the elegant French polished furniture that had graced our downtown office. In the course of that, I pulled out a desk drawer only to discover a beautiful old client marketing gift (pictured) that dated from when we first opened for business. At some point it had obviously become trapped under the drawer until its discovery.
It is a fascinating historical memento. It evidences that our original Beirut office was opened by the Hanover Bank (now long forgotten) prior to our merger with the Manufacturers Trust – the unison becoming MHT. The beautiful red leather sheath proudly states our main international offices were New York, London and Paris – and indeed it is little remembered that the Hanover Bank had a beautiful office in Paris tucked in the corner of Place Vendome - I believe just to the left of JP Morgan’s current office at #14 (sadly, the Hanover Bank Paris townhouse was sold off sometime after the Second World War).
And perhaps more interestingly, the sheath contained a slide rule for calculating currency conversions, presumably as a client giveaway to evidence the role Hanover Bank could play in serving their needs globally. However, the slide rule is based upon fixed currency exchange rates! It was a time of Bretton Woods when Cable (the old Forex term for Pounds Sterling/US$ exchange) was steadfastly fixed at $2.80 and nothing moved dynamically as currencies were exchanged. For those of us who still wear Manny Hanny neck ties (vintage 1980s) replete with currency symbols, many of these old currencies, like the Franc, Peseta and Lira, will be recognizable only from days of yore before the advent of the Euro.
Banking is a continuum, lest we forget, and it is useful to remember where we have been when contemplating the future.
A photo of the Beirut office staff and visitors. They are (from left to right): Peter Hazou (Assistant Secretary), Vahak Tahmazian (Resident Representative), Albert Kittaneh (VP from NY). Seated is Nadra Breir, the office manager.
Peter Hazou is now Director, Industry Solutions,
Financial Services industry team at Microsoft.
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