David Dwek (Class of 1993)

David Dwek (Class of 1993) spent 17 years at the investment bank Morgan Stanley in New York and rose to Managing Director. In 2021, he founded the private investment and advisory firm Eden Global Partners. David studied French and Business at King's College London and has an MBA from the University of Miami.  

What do you enjoy about working in investment banking?

I enjoy helping companies that have an impact on humanity maximise their potential. I helped companies like Moderna, Uber, and Palantir at Morgan Stanley. We are doing the same thing here, in my new firm – the difference here is that we have capital, whereas, at Morgan Stanley, we were purely agents, using other people's money. 

How does establishing your start-up compare to working for a giant like Morgan Stanley?

I've taken an entrepreneurial route. We are a relatively small institution of eighteen people instead of working in a company of 70,000 people. I'm building a business again, starting from scratch at forty-eight years old. Well, not scratch exactly – I have the knowledge, infrastructure, and know-how to build the company, though it comes with risk. There are some significant advantages to a relatively large organisation. We are a highly streamlined company with limited bureaucracy and much greater collaboration.

Can you give us an example of a company you have helped to grow during your career?

At Morgan Stanley, we raised a considerable amount of money for Uber, ultimately taking them public on NASDAQ. We worked with Rivian, the electric vehicle company: their electric pick-ups are becoming a familiar sight all over the United States – and will hopefully be in the UK soon.

But [biotech company] Moderna is of the companies that I am most proud of working with. It is one of the most transformative companies of a generation. They developed the first mRNA vaccine [used against Covid] and recently announced the first positive results for their trials on a personalised cancer vaccine. It is a company that has the potential to have a positive impact on all our lives.

So, is it that creative process of recognising the potential of an idea and then helping build it that excites you?

Yes - and trying to understand how capital, ideas, and people can best be harnessed together to create something great.

Did you ever think of launching your own company around a product rather than working with someone else's ideas?

It's not my thing. The founder of Moderna is a chemical engineer. Uber was founded by a software entrepreneur using a shared driver among his friends and created an app to coordinate that. Palantir was created by a hedge fund owner and several friends who, at the time, were wondering why the US and UK couldn't capture Osama Bin Laden. The head of the CIA told them they had too much data coming in from different intelligence sources. So Palantir developed highly sophisticated software to integrate and analyse those vast data sets.

They are people at the frontline of solving problems. I am looking at the value and impact of what they are doing and then seeing what we can do to turbo-charge their work. When we get involved, these businesses may already be turning over $100m – but that is still small on an institutional scale. We want to help them grow to $10 billion. 

When we get involved in a business, we become evangelists for that business. We become part of it. Ultimately, we are facilitating its growth with the use of capital. For us to get involved with a company, we need to have a deep conviction that their mission and values are aligned with ours. It is not just a function of making money but doing it with a sense of responsibility to all stakeholders involved and with integrity.

Your CV suggests your 20s were quite a mad time: just a few years out of school, you were running your own company in the Philippines…

At University, I had a summer job as an intern at an investment bank called Barclays de Zoete Wedd, the precursor to Barclays Capital. I worked closely with the Equities Division's Chief Operating Officer. We had developed a pre-internet idea that would allow people to trade equities electronically. 

After a couple of years, I left and joined my father, working for him on a company he had bought out of receivership. We turned it around over about three years and then listed the company in London.

I got married relatively young; my wife's father died shortly afterward, and I was excited to pursue a new opportunity in Southeast Asia – so we went to live in The Philippines. I set up a new company in the same sector I had worked on with my father: electronic security. By twenty-eight years old, I had successfully sold my business to G4S, a UK-based company. My wife and I then decided to move to the United States. I met someone from Morgan Stanley to discuss investment opportunities in the public markets. I told him I wanted to do it with him at Morgan Stanley! I ended up working in Morgan Stanley's Private Wealth Management Division through this connection. At Morgan Stanley, I was fortunate to develop some extraordinary mentors. The Head of Investment Banking and the CEO of Morgan Stanley suggested I move from Private Wealth Management to Investment Banking. I made the move even though the skill sets required were fundamentally different. It was a highly unusual career move in the financial services industry.

How come you had so much success in business in your 20s when you were so new to the game?

I don't think I did. Making money is not success. Money comes and goes but building a business that generates recurring cashflow and allows you to live a life you want to live and provide security for future generations – that's a success. Just making money by itself is not success.

Success for me is a balance between building value for your family, building a life that meets your values, and building a family aligned with your values. I do not measure success based on financial or family outcomes but on my ability to make a positive difference in society through philanthropy. 

But how did you build those businesses when you presumably knew much less than you know now?

I was inexperienced in my twenties but had the confidence to ask questions. Today I have a better sense of what I know and, more importantly, what I do not know. My success is attributed to being able to surround myself with really smart people—more competent people than me. I try to surround myself with brilliant and curious people with exceptional values and judgment. 

How has your approach to business changed since you started?

In my 20s, I had no kids and nothing to lose. It was heads down, blinkers on. As I have grown older, I have begun to trust other people's judgment more than my own. I have become a much better listener and learned to suppress my biases better. 

Can you tell us something about the finance sector that outsiders don't know or understand? 

Firstly, most people in finance make little money. There's a handful who make a lot. But most people don't. Secondly, finance is an apprenticeship business. To be good at it, you can only learn from others. It's about constant learning. It's not about knowing better than other people. You need to be learning every day. If you don't learn, you're not only standing still but regressing.

What was the last thing you learned?

There was a particular course of action I was looking at, and I had pre-judged what I thought was the right solution. But I was wrong. I learned from that that there are better answers than what seems obvious. There may be a better solution!

Another thing I've learned as I've matured is that one tends to believe past success is a pre-determination of future success. You can sometimes assume it is a predictor of what they will do in the future – which is not necessarily the case. 

Plus, one always tends to exaggerate other people's success. You can look at other people and see them as successful. But everyone has issues! I could be sitting with the world's most successful investor or entrepreneur, but if they have a toothache, the toothache is all they are thinking about.

When did you first think of doing what you are doing now? 

I come from a Middle Eastern culture. I'm Sephardic Jewish – my mother was born in Sudan, and my father in Egypt. We come from a culture of risk-takers. Learning how to take risks in a calculated way is a skill that is both innate and learned. It's like intelligence - you need the IQ and the EQ [emotional intelligence] to be successful. I wanted to refine that family culture of risk-taking.

I come from a family of merchants. It goes back many generations. The Jews were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition of 1492 and dispersed throughout the Ottoman Empire. They had to become merchants - they weren't academics or intellectuals but traders. 

You have lived in New York for 20 years now – how does it compare to London?

I loved all the time I spent in the City of London. After CLS, I went to King's College, just up the road, and my first jobs were in the City too. Coming out of Blackfriars tube on my way to school, the Futures Exchange was right there – you'd see these gentlemen in their colorful jackets, going out from the trading pits to grab a sandwich at the same place you were. That was special: to be in that culture of entrepreneurialism and risk.

New York is like London but at a much faster pace city. It's like this: if you go to a gym and see everyone working out and pushing themselves, you feel that you should push yourself harder too. If they can do it, so can I. New York City is exactly that. Everyone is pushing themselves that much harder.

I love the adrenalin of living and working in Manhattan. The energy is contagious. I see myself staying in New York City and have no ambitions of moving back to London.

How did you come to be at CLS?

I sat the City entrance exam when I was 12. I remember it very clearly. I remember coming in and feeling that this was the right school for me. 

What I loved at City was the diversity of the student population. At City, the students were united by intellectual curiosity and ambition. In addition, I found that it had a warm and nurturing environment, with exceptionally bright and self-motivated students. The school had a warmth that, if you looked in from the outside, you wouldn't necessarily appreciate. I have fond memories of being there. It shaped me. 

What extra-curricular activities did you do?

I was the Chairman of the Charity Committee. I loved the hustle of going and raising money for a children's hospital. I was in the CCF, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was never really an athlete. I didn't want to go and play football or cricket, nor did I want to take a coach to Grove Park. I just loved doing the sports around the building: water polo, fencing, karate, and squash.

It's a very random collection of activities.

Well, notice the theme – they were all indoors! I didn't want to get cold and dirty. I'm still the same way! I run on the treadmill pretty much every day. I don't run outdoors.

What were your favourite subjects?

I studied French, Politics, and Economics for A level. I loved US politics. I passed my American citizenship test with flying colours on the back of my US politics A-level. Politics and Economics were my two favourite subjects, but I had an incredible French teacher too. Alastair Laidlaw. He was part of the reason for my studying French at University – he was an inspirational teacher. We would go through this beautiful literature, reading Rabelais, Sartre, and Guy de Maupassant, and I was inspired. But Politics and Economics were particularly fascinating to me. Frank Gregory taught me economics. He was an exceptionally talented teacher.

Which visiting speakers do you remember?

I remember when Lord Peter Levene came to talk to us – I knew his son, Tim. Lord Levene was Minister of Defence at the time, and he was talking about the budget he had – I was in awe that this gentleman had a £15 billion annual budget. I may be getting my numbers wrong, but it was a considerable number.

What inspired me is that he was a successful entrepreneur who entered politics and made a significant contribution to his country.

If you were employing someone now, what quality or skill would you like to see in them? 

Authenticity. I like people that can understand their strengths and weaknesses. No one is great at everything. That ability to recognise things you are not good at is the first step to improving in that area. How can one grow if one cannot identify one's deficiencies?

In terms of skills, knowing how to engage with other people is essential. Honing one's EQ skills is critically important. One needs more than a high IQ to succeed in personal and business relationships.

Photo: David (centre) Chairman of the CLS Charity Committee 1992.

The Class of 1993 reunion to celebrate 30 years since leaving CLS will take place on 15 June 2023. Book your place here.