2 February 2018

Book review: Red Notice - Bill Browder

It’s a testament to a writer when they are able to make a true story feel like a thriller novel.

by Connor Coombe-Whitlock

Wealth Planning Assistant


One would probably need to stop and remind themselves that this story really happened when reading this book.

Red notice is the tale of Bill Browder, a rambunctious American fund manager born into a communist academic family (his life was bound to have tension). Our journey starts in his humble beginnings as a junior management consultant, following through to his stature as a powerhouse in the world of Eastern European finance. Bill, being the very humble narrator of the story, would be the first to admit however that this tale is not really about him. The tragic hero of this story is Sergei Magnitsky. A lawyer, employee and above all, friend of Bill’s whose bravery and pursuit of justice is breathtakingly told in a heart wrenching fable, one that does not leave you once you have finished the final page.

The elegance in Bill’s storytelling is his focus on detail. It was awe-inspiring just how much he managed to paint a picture, whether that was describing the exact body language of a billionaire in a meeting room, to the adrenaline he felt staring down corrupt oligarchs. This is so effective that you feel the same moments of “eureka!” with Bill at the brilliant, albeit sometimes lucky moments he finds success across Russia. I also personally felt a shiver run down my spine the first time we are with Bill as he, unexpectedly, tells a corrupt Russian businessman that he’s going to fight back.

This ability to put you in his shoes and make you feel what he felt is used to illicit all the emotions on the spectrum, and unfortunately this also includes sadness. The final third of the book is dedicated to the final days of Sergei Magnitsky. We learn that Bill, along with many of his associates are being targeted by the corrupt Russian elite, having not enjoyed the exposé they received. One by one our team leave the Russian cities, seeking international safe havens. All except Sergei. In the face of unbelievable adversity, he decided to stay in the motherland and carry on the fight from ground zero. Despite pleas from Bill, Sergei carried on his investigations which, inevitably, caught up with him. Sergei was finally apprehended and Bill spares no expense in detailing the torturous fate that befell the Russian lawyer. I would not be able to do Sergei’s full story justice here but rest assured, Bill instils into the mind of the reader that Sergei is nothing less than a martyr.

The book does not end entirely on a sad note, however. The final chapters are dedicated to how, using Sergei’s story, Bill was able to highlight to the world the true corruption laying at the very top of Russian politics and business. In successfully lobbying Congress Bill was able to get the Magnitsky Act passed into law, fighting off the same officials responsible for the horror that befell Sergei. We learn that the resistance against corruption, not just in Russia but across the world, is still a battle Bill is successfully fighting. We are left with an unexpected inspiring finale, where Bill reassures us all that he will not stop in this war. Sergei kept going, how could he not?

Our book club meetings are usually dedicated to discussing the investment and finance elements detailed in the books we read. How they may affect how we invest or if we agree with the strategies etc. The Red Notice meeting was different. We all detailed just how moved we were by this story, how amazed we are by Bill and Sergei’s work, and how much respect we all have for the continuing efforts he puts in. After finishing the book, we all went away to find various interviews and news reports on Mr Browder, he is simply a captivating and inspirational figure.

If you find certain finance books a bit heavy or overly technical I thoroughly suggest giving Red Notice a try. It is a finance story focused on the people behind the numbers; and while many of us in finance deal with incredible stress on a daily basis, few of us can claim to have genuine, mafia-style danger at our doorsteps! To close I will also highlight the added bonus that in a world where the financial executive is portrayed as a greedy villain, it’s refreshing to find an individual who puts the average do-gooder to shame!

Connor Coombe-Whitlock, Wealth Planning Assistant

The JM Finn book club, consisting of a dozen or so investment professionals across the firm, was conceived in 2017 with the hope being that, month by month, some of the wisdom of investing gurus such as Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, and Mohnish Pabrai, might rub off on their eager selves.

lang: en_US


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