The Deutsche Bank MD who left banking to save his son
In 2010, Wolfgang Hammes was at the peak of his career. After seven years with McKinsey & Co in New York and a decade in London banking at both Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank, he was Deutsche's co-head of European Financial Institutions banking in Europe. But when his three-year-old son became ill, Hammes jettisoned his banking career and migrated 4,400 miles to save him.
"It wasn't hard, because it was my child," says Hammes of his move. "A lot of people ask whether it was a difficult move to make but they haven't been in a situation where their child is in a life-threatening situation."
Hammes son, who had a weakened immune system and food allergies, suffered debilitating and dangerous bouts of acute pneumonia. "I had a client in Switzerland who said his son had the same thing – he had problems in winter, but when they moved to South Asia, where it was hot all the time, the problems disappeared," says Hammes. A German academic confirmed that climate could make all the difference: "He said he couldn't promise anything, but that he'd seen cases where a change into an all-summer climate worked."
Had Hammes migrated to Singapore, he might have been able to maintain his finance career, but his son's food allergies, which are severe and cause anaphylaxis, made this too risky. "Because of the food allergies, we can only live in countries where we speak the native language," says Hammes. "My son is allergic to milk and in the English language there are so many ways to talk about milk products that it can be difficult to eliminate them, but it's even worse elsewhere."
Hammes wife is an American citizen and his son has dual nationality, so the Southern States were the obvious option. The family moved to Florida, where opportunities for a European financial institutions group banker are hard to come by. "I didn’t even think of a hybrid model where my family would be living in Florida and I'd be commuting to New York," says Hammes.
These days, he's reverted to his other passion: risk. At a macro level, Hammes thinks we're in line for another financial crisis. "Our economic growth of the last two decades was mainly an illusion driven by debt growing much faster than GDP," he says. "We are now at a reckoning, and it will not go away in one or two years. When you raise rates today, it might take a couple of years before people have to refinance. That's when the real test comes."
Working as an independent risk consultant, Hammes advocates a much earlier response to problems. "Address issues when they are small," he says. "My biggest concern is collective unpreparedness for risk and a lack of courage in preparing for what is coming towards us. If we don't make preparations, there can only be an ugly outcome."
Hammes' son is now a healthy 15-year-old and Hammes himself hasn't worked in banking since leaving London. Preempting a catastrophic outcome, he made the necessary changes: "You don't think about how your career could have progressed. That's not the priority," he says.
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