A Banker's Journey: How Edmond J. Safra Built a Global Financial Empire Spiral-Bound | August 30, 2022

Daniel Gross

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The remarkable life and career of Edmond J. Safra: the most successful banker of the second half of the 20th century; protector of the global Sephardic Jewish community; philanthropist; and collector. From the age of fifteen to a career spanning Europe, and North and South America, across six languages, Safra built a global financial empire while staying true to his family legacy.

Who was Edmond J. Safra? “The greatest banker of his generation,” in the estimation of a former World Bank President. The founder of four massive financial institutions on three continents, and a proud child of Beirut’s Jewish quarter. An innovative avatar of financial globalization, and a faithful heir to a tradition of old-world banking. The leading champion and protector of the Sephardic diaspora. 

In A Banker’s Journey, financial journalist and historian Daniel Gross, who, like Safra, traces his heritage to Aleppo, Syria, reconstructs the public life of an intensely private man. With exclusive access to Safra’s personal archives, Gross tracks the banker’s remarkable journey from Beirut to Milan, São Paulo, Geneva, and New York—to the pinnacle of global finance.

Edmond Safra was fifteen in 1947, when his father sent him to establish a presence in Milan, Italy.  Fluent in six languages, and with an eye for value, managing risk, and personal potential, Safra was in perpetual motion until his tragic death in 1999. The modern, global financial empire he built was based on timeless principles: a banker must protect his depositors and avoid excessive leverage and risk. In an age of busts and bailouts, Safra posted remarkable returns while rarely suffering a credit loss.

From a young age, Safra assumed the mantle of leadership in the Syrian-Lebanese Jewish community, providing personal aid, supporting the communities that formed in exile, and championing Sephardic religious and educational efforts in Israel and around the world. 

Edmond J. Safra’s life of achievement in the twentieth century offers enduring lessons for those seeking to make their way in the twenty-first century. He inspired generations to make the world a better place.
Publisher: Ingram Publisher Services
Original Binding: Hardcover with printed dust jacket
Pages: 352 pages
ISBN-10: 1635767857
Item Weight: 1.66 lbs
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.06 x 9.0 inches
Customer Reviews: No Rating out of 5 stars Up to 30 ratings

“Edmond Safra's extraordinary life is one of the most fascinatingstories in modern finance, but the story runs much deeper than his legendarysuccess. A Banker's Journey captures the fullness of a man whose mindfor business and appetite for adventure was matched only by his heart forgiving and sense of responsibility to others. His impact continues to be felt,and now the inspiring lessons from his life will reach an even wider audience.”

—Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and BloombergPhilanthropies and Mayor of New York City, 2002-2013


“Edmond J. Safra’s remarkable story comes alive through theextensive research of Daniel Gross. Safra’s banking success made him a publicfigure, but his generosity, dignity, and integrity are what A Banker’sJourney masterfully showcases as the qualities by which he will beremembered.”

—Bryan Burrough, co-author of Barbarians at the Gate andauthor of Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra


"Edmond Safra was a remarkable leader, builder, dreamer, philanthropist, and financial services executive. I was honored to know him and work closely with him for two decades. From the moment I picked up Daniel Gross’s book, I literally, and I say literally, could not put it down. It was a fantastic journey through an incredible life. Edmond always put his company, employees, and depositors first. He cared deeply about this ‘extended family,’ and he always had their backs. Edmond was also very philanthropic, as he supported a number of religious organizations. For any aspiring business or community leader, this book is a must read. Edmond was one of the most talented leaders I have ever been around, and our world is a much better place because of him.”

—Sandy Weill, Former Chairman and CEO of Citigroup


“Daniel Gross’s graceful and factual recounting of the life of the great banker and philanthropist Edmond Safra is a joy to read, and inspiring.”

—Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

“Most readers will know Edmond J. Safra as a towering banker whohelped define the modern economic era. Daniel Gross’s vibrant account will makethem aware of Safra’s open-handed humanitarian instinct that stood in equalmeasure to his financial genius—an instinct that continues ‘repairing theworld’ to this day. His legacy of a deep and boundless commitment to family,faith and generosity holds timeless lessons for us all, no matter what journeywe find ourselves on. Absorbing, highly-recommended reading.”

—Michael J. Fox


“Anyone who knew my treasured friend Edmond Safra was keenly awarethat he was a remarkable person: thoughtful, welcoming, intelligent. With thisdefinitive account of his life, a broader audience can marvel at hisaccomplishments, remember his enduring contributions, and carry forward thelessons of a life lived with purpose and humility.”

—Elton John


“This is an extraordinary book about a remarkable man. Edmond J.Safra may be best known as an immensely successful global financier, but he wasa person of many significant qualities: devoted to his family, his faith, andto the deep value of education for individuals from many backgrounds. He gavegenerously to several universities, and the story of his life is now told in anexceptional way, with fine scholarly detail that makes vivid all the humaneaspects of this exceptional human being.”

—Neil L. Rudenstine, President Emeritus, Harvard University

"Commercial banking was Edmond’s heritage and his consuming passion. At an age when most of us were thinking about what college we’d like to enter, he was sent out pretty much on his own to explore business opportunities in both Europe and America. He built his banks, made his money, and, not so incidentally, established his name the old-fashioned way. But when it came to a decision, Edmond could match any modern entrepreneur. Through it all, Edmond was strongly motivated by a more personal responsibility that couldn’t be counted in numbers."
—Paul Volcker, Chair of the Federal Reserve (1979-1987)


“The lessons to be learned from following Edmond Safra’s careerare remarkable. He shaped a generation of young, serious, and brilliantbankers, and this book is a can’t-miss for those who are entering the bankingworld.”

—Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of The Estée LauderCompanies Inc.


“Edmond Safra’s life and career were unique in many ways. A daringentrepreneur and successful banker, he created an innovative, prosperous, andrespected financial network around the world. An aesthete, collector, and greatpatron of the arts, he had an inexhaustible curiosity that embraced many areas.As a philanthropist, he left his mark on the 20th century by activelycommitting himself to numerous causes with faith, attention, and discipline. Iam delighted that Daniel Gross’s biography goes through the different stages ofEdmond’s rich life and pays tribute to an extraordinary man.”

—Francois Pinault, founder of Kering and Artemis


“Edmond Safra was a giant in the world of international finance.He was a true financial pioneer, and learning from him helped guide me as I wasbuilding my career. There is a lot to learn from reading his biography foranyone interested in finance, whether you are just starting out, or steeped inthe profession.”

—Henry Kravis, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman, KKR


“Upon meeting Edmond Safra for the first time fifty years ago Iwas immediately struck by his complete and total dedication to the safety andsecurity of his bank’s depositors and also by his deep and sincere admirationof America as a land of opportunity. Although many consider him to have beenthe greatest banker of the 20th century, he never lost his sense of modesty norhis belief that success must be built upon trustworthiness and compassion. Thisis a book that must be read.”

—Arthur Levitt Jr., Chairman of the Securities and ExchangeCommission (1993-2001)

“In the life of Edmond Safra, we seethe brilliance, the creativity, and most of all, the resilience of the Jewishpeople throughout time. Faced with obstacle after obstacle includingdisplacement, prejudice, and more, my friend Edmond not only survived butexcelled—beyond the dreams of most people. This is an extraordinary book aboutan extraordinary man. Now, future generations will learn about Edmond,especially at a time when his form of integrity seems to be in short supply.”

—Ronald S. Lauder, President, WorldJewish Congress


“Edmond Safra was truly unique, founding four banks on threecontinents—all of them successful. To start Republic National Bank of New Yorkand grow it into a thriving institution in one of the world's most competitivemarkets was an extraordinary achievement, and he repeated this success againand again around the world. He was the rare combination of conservative bankerand brilliant, thoughtful risk-taker. Edmond cared deeply for his staff and hisclients, and, perhaps above all, he changed the lives of millions of peoplethrough the help he gave to schools, hospitals, and other causes. He wasinspirational and an example to us all, and I am delighted that his story isfinally being told.”

—Sir John Bond, Group Chairman HSBC Holdings (1998-2006)


He is like a tree planted beside the streams of water whichyields its fruit in season whose leaves shall not fade. in all that he does heprospers. These words from Psalm 1:3, carved in stone at Somerset House,are displayed in honor of Edmond. His philanthropy to many institutions andgood causes across the world were achieved by this modest, sensitive andextraordinary man, primus inter pares in the generation of SephardicJews who left the Middle East after the Second World War, to establish themselveswith immense success in the wider world as men of business.


Edmond used his exceptional talents to create and build bankingbusinesses which spanned more than thirty countries across the globe; inaddition, he inherited from his parents a sense of duty and obligation to theJewish community who were to him an extended family. The range of support hegave to his people and the wide range of institutions is beyond belief—and atthe same time, in addition to his commercial success and his prodigious generosity,he was able, helped at all times by his wife Lily, to become a connoisseur andcollector of fine arts of extraordinary quality. 


It is timely that a book is now being published to describe theachievements of this brilliant man whose personality and character touched allof us who were fortunate enough to have known and admired him. Edmond’sremarkable life will now be recorded and celebrated by future generations. Thesadness is of a life tragically lost to us at too young an age, but this bookwill enable us to make the life of Edmond imperishable in our memory. It is aremarkable story which will be an example to us all.”

—Lord Jacob Rothschild



Daniel Gross is one of the most widely-read writers on finance, economics, and business history. Over the past three decades, he has reported from more than thirty countries, covering everything from the dotcom boom to the global financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Gross worked as a reporter at The New Republic and Bloomberg News, wrote the "Economic View" column in The New York Times, and served as Slate's "Moneybox" columnist. At Newsweek, where he was a columnist and correspondent, he authored seven cover stories. He is a bestselling author of eight books, including Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time; Generations of Corning; Dumb Money: How America's Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation; and Better, Stronger, Faster: The Myth of American Decline and the Rise of a New Economy.

Gross was educated at Cornell University and holds an M.A. in American history from Harvard University. His great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Aleppo and Damascus.