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25 November 2020

The Mysterious Mr Rich



Browsing through my bookshelves last week, I came across something I hadn’t read for about thirty-five years. “Metal Men”, by A. Craig Copetas, didn’t set the world alight when it was published, but amongst those in its target audience in the metal industries it was pretty widely read. I didn’t remember much about it, so I have just re-read it.

The first thing to say is that it is wildly sensationalist. But then, checking out the author, he is primarily a magazine feature writer, so I guess it’s not that surprising that large parts of the book read like what we would today regard as magazine/media clickbait. That’s not to say it’s not interesting, and there has undoubtedly been a lot of research. Looking at the list of names in the acknowledgements, Copetas has obviously consulted a lot of people, and one thing I found entertaining was seeing if I could (in my own mind, with no confirmation, of course) try to connect the names with the unattributed quotations in the text. I reckon I got a few right, because in that list of consultees are many well-known figures, mostly in non-LME-metals.

Hindsight is a great thing, though. There are one or two characters in the book (as opposed to just acknowledged) who are presented as major forces in the business - from 2020, I would regard them as transients, barely remembered names. Unicoal, we are told, was a metal trading giant, and one individual is described as being the magic that “transformed the floundering metal-trading firm of Derek Raphael from a backdoor operation into a powerhouse”….mmm, well, that’s an interesting take, for  those of us who knew the eponymous owner.

Beyond the hyperbole and ego-inflating sensationalism, though, there is actually a biography of Marc Rich struggling to get out. It’s as much a biography of the company as the man, and it’s reasonably interesting and easy to read - again, like a series of magazine pieces. But more than anything, it’s a piece of its time, and certainly, I have to say, brought home to me the massive changes in attitude and style over that thirty-five year period. It’s worth reading for that, as a frozen bit of time, if for not much else.

Proof-reading wasn’t strong, though. Samuel Montagu appears (correctly) like that, also as Samuel Montague. And how different the China/Hong Kong relationship might have been, under Copetas’ geography - “He was a frequent visitor to Hong Kong and the Peninsula Hotel on Kowloon Island”; well, I suppose if you don’t grow up by the sea, an island and a peninsula could easily be confused. Although the name could be a giveaway……

Well, it filled a dull day of lockdown, and enables me to use my one Marc Rich story. I met the man twice only, both times for a maximum of about five minutes. The second time, when he was an old man, and out of all corporate involvement, he came into our office to talk about metals far more valuable than the copper/nickel/aluminium I was involved in, but nevertheless he was walked round to meet us. Then, he and my colleagues disappeared into the boardroom for an hour or so, talking about those high-priced metals. With him was his daughter, and her function, my colleague told me, was to produce a report on the meeting for Papa. Well, she’d obviously been distracted by something, because an hour or so after they left, she rang my colleague and asked him to borrow his notes, because she hadn’t got everything down. If you read the book, in his heyday that would probably have sparked fury: by then, though, I suspect it would have engendered mere parental indulgence.


“Metal Men”, by A. Craig Copetas, was published by Putnam Publishing Group. Although it appears to be out of print, a Kindle version still seems to be available.         



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