Larry Fink, founding chief executive officer and chairman of BlackRock, always carries a thick wad of various currency notes in his pocket. At the moment, the wad includes euros, Chinese renminbi, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollars, and the dirhams of various Gulf emirates. He does this not only because odds are good that any month he will have to use each but as a reminder that the value of any financial asset can change swiftly. He reels off just how much the US dollar has declined against each of the currencies in his pocket (although recently he has turned relatively optimistic on the greenback).
Mr Fink is acutely conscious of the impact of adverse moves in financial markets.That obsession is one of the reasons that BlackRock, which Mr Fink founded nearly 20 years ago, is arguably the most impressive asset management firm in the world, with assets of nearly $1,400bn (£719bn).
At a time when most financial firms have been bloodied by the credit crisis, BlackRock has never looked better. This week it paid $15bn for a portfolio of dis- tressed mortgage assets with a $20bn face value from UBS, the Swiss bank. In March, the Federal Reserve asked it to manage $29bn in distressed mortgage securities from Bear Stearns, the investment bank. That followed a mandate to help a troubled Florida state investment pooldevise a plan for $14bn in securities in December.
It is only recently Mr Fink has secured the limelight the heads of Wall Street firms routinely receive, even though for years no financial figure has been held in higher regard by his peers. The boards of Citi, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have all approached him as a potential candidate to run their ailing firms. (Merrill is said to have backed away after he asked questions that suggested he might be too intrusive.)
Mr Fink's stature was confirmed when he was one of the fewexecutives invited to the recent finance ministers meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations. He advised themto improve the regulatory regime - something he had counselled Hank Paulson and other US Treasury officials on for months. He argued regulationfocused mainly on banks is obsolete and that it should include private equity firms and hedge funds.
His Wall Street status is a long way from his humbler roots. Mr Fink, 56, is the son of a shoe salesman and says his character derives from growing up in a modest working-class suburb of Los Angeles. After a political science degree and an MBA at the University of California in Los Angeles (he recently donated $10m to his alma mater) in 1976, he moved to New York taking his first job at First Boston. His career has been defined by ambition and competitiveness, without appearing to show either.The asset-backed securities market was born almost 30 years ago out of competition between Mr Fink and Lewis Ranieri, then at the old Salomon Brothers, as each tried to outdo the other in inventing new securities. At age 29, Mr Fink was the youngest person ever to become a managing director of First Boston.
Mr Fink and Rob Kapito, BlackRock's president, say their biggest career risk was to leave First Boston and move to the young Blackstone in 1988 to found its money management arm. In 1995, in a rancorous split, Mr Fink left to establish BlackRock, his own firm, combining an understanding of ar-cane finance with an intuitive understanding of people. While he lacks a strong background in mathematics, colleagues say he has an instinctive grasp of balance sheets.
From the moment the two men created BlackRock, their model was almost anti-Wall Street. "Wall Street is all about technology to sell securities," says Mr Kapito. "We were about developing a platform for those who own securities." BlackRock advises and manages money only for its clients, not for itself. It does not use its own balance sheet to compete against clients by, say, trading with its own capital.
"His personal style is very low key," says Greg Fleming, co-president of Merrill Lynch, whose as-set management business was subsumed into BlackRock in 2006. "He doesn't telegraph it but he has an intense desire to succeed."
Mr Fink's success has enabled some lavish tastes - from collecting folk art, expensive pinot noirs to buying a jewellery store in Aspen. With eight other partners, he owns Octone Records, the label of rock band Maroon 5, and still ventures into Manhattan rock clubs. Last year he told the FT his music investment was "a mechanism for me to remain somewhat young. It was always a passion of mine from childhood".
Yet by the standards of the industry, Mr Fink retains a balanced lifestyle. He met his wife, Lori, now a photographer, when he was 17 and she was 15. They have three children, and his eldest, Joshua, runs a hedge fund.
Compared with some private equity groups, BlackRock's founders have shared its wealth widely. "To build the business, we were very fair with the distribution of equity so everyone could share in the success," Mr Kapito recalls. With BlackRock now worth about $25bn, Mr Fink's stake gives him a new worth of at least $250m.
BlackRock's success is due largely to the state-of-the-art risk analytics it adopts, yet Mr Fink has made key strategic decisions. He rode the bull market in bonds for 20 years, then made a bet on shares and presided over a series of acquisitions and diversifications that have made it a significant force in equities, property, hedge funds and commodities.
This breadth has been underpinned by Mr Fink's vast personal network that has made him one of Wall Street's most plugged- in operators. His diplomatic style was evident in the acrimonious board debates over the pay of Richard Grasso, then head of the New York Stock Exchange. Mr Fink was one of the few directors who remained on speaking terms with everyone.
Yet his network is global - he travels extensively in Saudi Arabia and China (where he draws the line at eating the feet of chickens or ducks). Next week he will lunch in Japan with the new governor of the Bank of Japan. (He hopes to finish reading a biography of Einstein on the flight over.) He will also discuss his cautiously optimistic views that the worst of the credit crisis is over with clients. His big move into the distressed mortgage market, however, may be the riskiest BlackRock has yet undertaken. The firm and its founder are now subject to more scrutiny and jealousy than ever before. For a man who wistfully claims: "I liked being anonymous", if the bet goes wrong, his reputation will tumble quickly with it.
只是直到最近，芬克才获得了华尔街投行老板们普遍受到的关注，不过，数年来没有哪位金融界人物得到其同行更高的尊重。花旗银行(Citi)、美林(Merrill Lynch)和摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)的董事会都曾与他接洽，询问他是否有可能管理它们境况不佳的公司。（据说，在他问了一些表明他可能过于咄咄逼人的问题后，美林退出了接洽。）
他从草根打拼多年才得到如今在华尔街的地位。56岁的芬克是一位鞋商的儿子，他表示，他的性格来源于在洛杉矶郊区工人阶级普通家庭长大的经历。在1976年获得加州大学(University of California)洛杉矶分校的政治科学学位和MBA学位后（他最近向他的母校捐赠了1000万美元），他迁往纽约，在第一波士顿(First Boston)得到了第一份工作。他的事业的特征是雄心和竞争力，但这两点似乎都没有显示出来。资产担保证券市场诞生于近30年前，源于芬克和刘易斯•拉涅罗(Lewis Ranieri)的竞争，因为两人都希望自己先于对手设计出新的证券。29岁的芬克成为第一波士顿有史以来最为年轻的董事总经理。
芬克的成功造就了他的一些奢华品味，从收藏民间艺术品、昂贵黑比诺葡萄酒到买下阿斯蓬的一家珠宝店。他与其他8位合伙人共同拥有摇滚乐队魔力红(Maroon 5)的商标Octone Records，并投资了曼哈顿摇滚俱乐部。去年，他告诉英国《金融时报》，他的音乐投资“是一个让我保持年轻的方法。这是我从孩童时代就一直拥有的激情。”