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The New Color of Money


"I've been sheltered from the Gordon Gekko idea of Wall Street," says Morgan Stanley's Bombay-born Vikram Pandit.  

Reporting to Pandit is Tarek Abdel-Meguid, whose father is from Egypt. Reporting to Zakaria are the Egyptian Ahmass Fakahany, COO of the institutional group, and Dow Kim of Korea, who heads up the fixed-income business.

There are a host of similarities that stick out among the new meritocrats. Few of them seem interested in golf (though at the ripe old age of 49, Ogunlesi is taking it up). They don't engage in the flashy-charity, not-for-profit activities that tend to occupy older-crowd bankers. And, perhaps most important to their success, they are sticking with the firms they joined up with in the early eighties, showing a degree of fidelity rarely found within Wall Street's increasingly mercenary culture. In many cases, their love for the firm blends in with the love they have for America. Be it Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch, the American dream is right there in the executive suite (which they are clearly within striking distance of).

No wonder, then, that they are so prized by Mack, Purcell, O'Neal, Bear Stearns CEO James Cayne, and others. Rocket-science smarts, a relentless work ethic, and a Kool-Aid-gulping devotion to the greater good of the firm -- wouldn't you entrust them with your bottom line?

"These people are in these positions because of their skills and because they are smart and competent," says Morgan Stanley president Bob Scott. "They have been in the business for a long time, and they now have the credibility to be leaders."

Sitting in a conference room high atop the new Bear Stearns headquarters on Madison Avenue, Fares Noujaim, a Bear Stearns vice-chairman, expresses his love for the firm. "These guys are my family. I've grown up with them," he says in the over-pronounced American accent common to those who have learned English later in life. "We will die together."

The words are spoken free of irony. Born in Kuwait, the 39-year-old Noujaim emigrated to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with his Lebanese parents at the age of 8, not speaking a lick of the local language. At 14, he was supporting himself, working as a mechanic and a grocery clerk; soon after, he put himself through Pace University, where he studied quantitative economics.

A brief stop at Goldman Sachs followed, where it was understood he needed an M.B.A. to advance further; he moved over to Bear in 1987. Tall and sinewy, Noujaim wears his silky black suit like a pair of pajamas. His full head of hair is very well tended. "I would say that I'm an Ace Greenberg P.S.D.," he says. "Ace has a saying: 'I won't hold an M.B.A. against you; but I prefer Poor, Smart, and a Desire to be rich.' "

That said, there is nothing flashy about Noujaim. He refuses to give the slightest hint as to how much he actually makes, though the going rate for someone of his stature on Wall Street is $5 million a year. Until recently, Noujaim was co-head of global-debt-capital markets at Bear Stearns, and he gained some industry renown by leading a $9.5 billion bond deal for Ford last October, the largest such deal at the time. As vice-chairman, he now sits on Bear's internal board and, as he says, cross-sells the firm to prospective clients all over the world.

He leaves his home in Darien each morning -- he is married with three young children -- at 5 a.m. and is sitting at his desk by 6:30. Squeezing in a client dinner on most nights, he is usually home by 9:30 or so. He figures that he is on the road 130 days a year.

Why this relentless need to push himself? "If you grow up hungry, you never want to go back," Noujaim says, speaking softly. "You can't do things halfway in this job. You want to win every opportunity that you get. It's that competing that I really love."

Noujaim's outside interests are few. An American citizen now, he returns to Beirut once a year to keep his rusty Lebanese Arabic in form. He plays no golf at all, does not follow sports, and has no raft of charity boards that he sits on. He does not read books and watches little TV. He will scan The Economist because he feels he has to and Car and Driver for fun. In the end, it's all about Bear Stearns, which makes CEO and chairman Jimmy Cayne proud. "Fares is the prototype for the calling officer. He is one in 10 million," Cayne says. "He is relentless. Totally driven. He is like the Energizer Bunny -- he just never stops."

Across the block on Park Avenue at JPMorgan Chase headquarters, the days are also long for Dina Dublon, Morgan's Brazilian-born chief financial officer. Hit by the double whammy of its exposure to Enron and Argentina, the bank's earnings collapsed last year, together with its stock price. Having to explain all this to a wary Wall Street was the 48-year-old Dublon. "For me personally, the stress level has been high," she says. "But I think we need to deliver performance before we can look for a higher stock price. There are many skeptics out there."

Prim and formal, Dublon sits on the edge of her chair in her spacious, sunny office off the hushed hallway of JPMorgan's executive suite. The child of Zionist parents, she emigrated to Israel from Brazil at the age of 11. She earned a degree in math and economics from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and, after working a few years as a trader on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, came to the U.S. with her husband. After getting a business degree from Carnegie Mellon, she snagged an entry-level trading job in the trainee program at Chemical Bank in 1981, and 21 years and three mergers later, she now presides over JPMorgan's financials.

In her current position, she is undeniably one of the more powerful women on Wall Street -- a charge she takes seriously. "I do feel that I carry a responsibility beyond my professional duties," she says. "And that is to be a role model for other women and to make diversity a greater part of the executive suite." But here is the question: How does a demure foreign woman, albeit one with superior quantitative skills, survive twenty-plus years in the dog-eat-dog culture of Chemical–Manny Hanny–Chase–JPMorgan?

Maybe it's the accent, which after all these years remains thick. "I think people listen to it with a greater degree of curiosity," says Dublon. "Do they perhaps underestimate you? Could be. Maybe because I'm also a woman, I might be viewed as being less threatening."

Like the savvy trader she once was, Dublon is not above using a little leverage when the time calls for it. Still, the burdens and time pressures of her office can weigh upon her. Dublon lives in Mount Vernon with her husband, a professor turned artist (his abstract art decorates the walls of her office), and their two children.

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