December 5, 2023

DealBook: Lawyer for Former UBS Trader Likens His Client to Spartacus

The former UBS trader Kweku Adoboli arriving at court in London on Monday.Olivia Harris/ReutersThe former UBS trader Kweku Adoboli arriving at court in London on Monday.

LONDON – The lawyer representing Kweku M. Adoboli, a former UBS trader standing trial on fraud allegations, on Monday likened his client to Spartacus, the main character in the 1960s Hollywood movie about a Thracian slave.

In his closing remarks to the jury, Charles Sherrard said Mr. Adoboli was like Spartacus, who was portrayed by Kirk Douglas, because he stepped forward to take the blame. But unlike in the movie, where Spartacus’s fellow gladiators all claimed to be Spartacus to avoid him being singled out for punishment, Mr. Adoboli’s team members were just too happy for him to take responsibility.

“Mr. Adoboli stands up and says ‘I am Spartacus’ and the other three stand up and said ‘yes, that’s him!’, Mr. Sherrard told the jury in a London courtroom.

“Mr. Adoboli believes more in community than the self,” Mr. Sherrard said before quoting e-mail exchanges between Mr. Adoboli and colleagues, in which the former trader wrote “We are a team, we work together. One fails, we all fail. One succeeds, we all succeed.”

The prosecution previously argued that Mr. Adoboli was “arrogant” and a “gambler,” who sidestepped rules when it suited him. Mr. Adoboli, 32, is charged with six counts of fraud and false accounting in connection with a $2.3 billion trading loss at UBS. He could face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.

The defense has said that Mr. Adoboli’s activities were well known in the bank. His supervisors, according to the defense, condoned the actions because they proved to be profitable.

The jury is expected to start deliberating on Tuesday or Wednesday, after a summary of the case by the judge. A verdict is not expected before the middle of next week.

UBS is not a defendant in the case, and is not permitted to comment on criminal cases, according to British law.

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Corner Office: Terri Ludwig: Leadership Doesn’t Rest on Your Title

Q. Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss? 

A. The first time I had what I would call a real job managing people was at Credit Suisse First Boston.  I was running the sales operation for the global foreign currency business.   

Q. How old were you?   

A. About 29. There were about six people reporting to me.   

Q. Was that an easy transition for you?

A. I definitely learned a fair amount of lessons. On Wall Street, and it’s probably the same in other industries, just because you’re the biggest producer you often get put in the management role.  But just because you’re a great producer doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily a great manager.  So I had to really learn how to manage people.  And it was a little challenging because I walked into a situation where I had some underperforming team members. That was the first time I had to fire people.  There were people who were significantly older than me.  And there were a lot of gender issues, too.

Q. What were some things you did to work through that?

A. One thing that built my credibility with them was that I didn’t stop producing. So you’re kind of leading by example, and sharing what’s worked, and asking others what’s worked for them. I’m also pretty straightforward, and I think they appreciated that.  Here’s the goal, here’s the accountability, so how can we achieve this together?   

Q. What about earlier in your life? Were you in leadership roles?

A. My jobs out of the gate were ones that tended to be about taking care of children.  I was a swimming instructor.  I taught gymnastics.  I taught at a Head Start center.  I do think that those influenced me.  Very early on, I loved working with kids.  I really wanted to see people be successful, and I think I was a pretty natural teacher and coach to people.   

Q. And where did you get that from? 

A. My mom was a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher.  She was very influential to me — very supportive of what I chose to do. I had her for a teacher in seventh grade, too. I saw the way she taught. She had a passion for her students, and I also think she tended to gravitate to the kids in her classroom who had difficulty and were kind of hard to teach. She wanted to make sure that they were also preparing themselves for success. She did a lot of after-school work, too. She was incredibly dedicated. That had an effect on me. Fast-forward to today, and I’m trying to help create opportunities for people so they can fulfill their potential. 

Q. Tell me about your decision to shift to the nonprofit world from Wall Street.

A. It was definitely always my intention to figure out how I could make a difference in the world. You get to a point in your life where you say, I’ve had great success, it was terrific, but I really had a longing and a desire to make a difference.  And so I applied to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard for its midcareer program to figure out how to apply the skills that I had learned in a meaningful way. 

For the first time in my life, I really didn’t worry about the academics. I didn’t have to be valedictorian.  I said let’s go and just have fun, and meet people and really understand some of the opportunities.  And the area I got very excited about was bringing what I had learned in the financial markets to a meaningful sort of social mission.

Q. How many people work at Enterprise?   

A. 500 people.

Q. How would you say your management style has evolved over time?

A. I think I’m more self-aware. When you become C.E.O. of a large organization, you become aware that you telegraph things that you may not intentionally telegraph.  So you make sure that you’re really telegraphing the information that you want, and it’s important to make sure you’re keeping that energy really positive. 

You also really have to think about your audience and how you’re communicating.  I grew up on a trading desk, so I’m a bullet girl  —  give me the high points, let’s make a decision, let’s have action.  But when we’re dealing with governmental partners and a lot of other partners, or even within Enterprise, there’s a healthy process. And you have to think about how to get the best result and the best outcome, and go through a process without letting it become an obstacle. 

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