Musician makes bank's tills ring

Banking seemed an easier option than the music business to Jonathan Moulds and it seems he has hit the right note, even if life is a bit frenetic. City Editor Eric Barkas reports.

JONATHAN MOULDS considered a career in music but ended up as head honcho of Bank of America outside the US.

That means responsibility for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

He still plays – sometimes in stellar company – and has a collection of rare instruments worth many millions.

Asked why he went into business, he says: "The first thought was that music was too damn hard. The second thought was that I could keep it as a hobby."

At Bank of America, Moulds sits on top of 11,000 people across the globe. He has titles that would fill a page but they come down to bank president for what Americans would call the rest of the world.

It was all so much simpler when the young Moulds learnt music from his mother Sheila at the family home in Halifax. Sheila was a music teacher. Moulds's father, Robert, ran an industrial painting company.

He played the violin at the local grammar school, now called Crossley Heath, but switched to the viola when the school quartet needed a viola player.

The viola – halfway between a violin and a cello – was what Moulds took to Cambridge, where he studied maths. He won an instrumental scholarship while at the university, enabling him to pursue his passion while still studying for his degree.

When he left Cambridge, he headed for Nomura, the Japanese investment bank. It was the start of the boom in derivatives – flexible financial instruments that enable clients to mitigate risk in areas like interest rates, equities and commodities.

Moulds, 40, admits that when he joined "I had no clue what a derivative was".

He was a fast learner. After four year he moved to the financial instruments trader Chicago Research and Trading in a senior capacity. Chicago was bought by Nations Bank which, in 1998, merged with Bank of America and he was made global head of rate derivative trading of the enlarged group.

Other promotions followed until last month he got his present job – president of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

And he has time to go up to Yorkshire five or six times a year to see his mother and younger brother Nicholas, who still live in Halifax. Another brother, Chris, is a pianist and conductor. Moulds himself is one of the biggest private sponsors of the Leeds Piano Competition.

He still keeps a townhouse in Chicago, though he is based now in London. He has a family townhouse in Kensington and an apartment on the Thames at Tower Bridge that estate agents say has the longest riverside front in London.

He created it by buying one penthouse apartment in 1996 and the next door penthouse in 2001, then knocking the two together.

Tower Bridge is handy for the office at Canary Wharf. Kensington is for family life. Moulds met his Italian wife Antonella at a dinner party in London. They have twin daughters, Anna and Francesca, aged two. Moulds struck a blow for England by insisting that both have the same middle name, Jane.

Moulds sits on the board of the London Symphony Orchestra and has a strong interest in the performing arts.

He performs music, but mainly at private functions. His connections mean he has played with some of the world's finest musicians. At his 40th birthday party, he played with the LSO and the virtuoso Sarah Chang.

"I can play pretty well."

One of his main interests is the collection of violins. "I have four of the world's greatest violins," he says. He means three made by Stradivarius in the "golden period" between 1700 and 1720 and one from Guaniere del Gesu.

He says they have been "a spectacularly good investment" but won't comment on their value. Experts say a good Stradivarius is worth between $4m and $6m.

The day job, Bank of America, is quite demanding. Moulds spends between half and two-thirds of his time in London and the rest travelling overseas.

He gets to the London office about 6.45am, finishing maybe at 7pm and then going to client dinners.

He says he works out in his home gym and tries to run between three and five miles a day. His ambition is to do three miles in 18 minutes.

Bank of America is a big business. It has a market value of $225bn and is regarded as the second largest financial institution in the world after the US's Citigroup. Net income in 2005 was up 19 per cent at $16.89bn.

Moulds says: "It's a hugely successful story in terms of growth and yet we still have tremendous opportunities outside the US."

Within the US, the bank is focused on commercial and investment banking. It's the same story outside, with the addition of credit card services.

Moulds is in pole position outside. Did he think when he was doing maths at Cambridge he would end up here?

"The City is looking for broader qualities than a maths degree," he says. "It's looking for character, leadership and drive – qualities not always applicable to mathematicians.

"Half the battle is being keen to develop your career and being keen on the role you're going for."

How did he get where he is? "I was a pretty good trader. I think I was a decent leader. I think I was a pretty straightforward manager."

Having a hinterland to fall back on – family and music – makes a big difference. So there is never a chance of being a one-dimensional business oik.

Moulds says of music: "It keeps me sane."

Jonathan Moulds

Job: President of Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia for Bank of America.

First job: Trader at Nomura.

Homes: Kensington, Tower Bridge, Chicago.

Cars: Aston Martin, Ferrari.

Favourite music: Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No1.

Favourite film: The Godfather.

Favourite holiday destination: Mexico.