Requiem for a Banker

paul calello getty Requiem for a BankerThere was a peculiar buzzing sound coming from somewhere inside the Credit Suisse meeting, a mildly annoying vibrating bleep. Paul Calello, the bank’s commodities and derivatives chief, checked his briefcase. The buzzes got louder.

His daughter had decided to send her Tamagotchi toy pet to work with him, and it was hungry. Mr. Calello stopped the meeting, according to Wilson Ervin, one of the other executives there, took the pet out, smiled and fed it a digital hamburger.

The financier, who became chief of Credit Suisse’s investment bank in 2007, when cuts to risk and costs helped make the giant one of the few that weren’t bailed out, died on Nov. 16 of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was 49.

There is something about Wall Street executives who are as important as Mr. Calello–who four years ago helped arrange Industrial & Commercial Bank of China’s record-setting $21.9 billion IPO–that makes them difficult. People who dominate high finance do not tend to enchant outside of it. “He’s the heart of our family, center of the swirl, itchy instigator of the well spent day, pied piper of not just adventure, but intellectual curiosity and passion,” one of his three sisters, the poet Cathy Staples, wrote. “Passionate engagement in the world has never been a solo adventure for Paul, he’s intent upon bringing us all with him.”

“He didn’t sacrifice other parts in order to do what he did well,” said his brother-in-law, Alex Gibney, the documentarian who made Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side. “He was just generous as a person, always thinking about other people. It sounds so corny to say, but that’s what was so miraculous.”

He was short-listed to replace Tim Geithner at the New York Fed last year. Two of his neighbors in Beaverkill, N.Y., the conservationist Laurance Rockefeller Jr. and the former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, both said he could have eventually been secretary of the Treasury.

But those neighbors also talk about the Calello house’s musicales, where the executive and one of his sisters played guitar and their father sang in a self-taught operatic voice. “Uproarious fun,” Mr. Rockefeller said. Others brought Dobros and 12-strings. They played songs like Lowell George’s “Willin’” and John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.”

He sang with his family a few days before his death.

 

BORN TO SOCIAL workers, Mr. Calello was raised outside of Boston. He burst with energy, Mr. Gibney said, causing a bit of a ruckus on school bus rides. It was suggested that he and a friend run to school, which they found too boring, so they would run past it and back, ready for the day. “I’d watch him out the school bus window, running,” Ms. Staples wrote, “swag of dirty blond hair crossing his eyes, stride loose and easy, and, if he saw me or my sisters, that grin.” He tried to run the Boston Marathon at 11 and 12, and succeeded at age 13. He gave up marathons after that.

He met his wife, Jane DeBevoise, at Bankers Trust in Tokyo, where they bonded over a 20-year yen-dollar amortizing swap for United Airlines. Mr. Gibney was living a more bohemian life when he first met the banker. “I looked at him: tassel loafers, no socks. I thought, ‘Oh, brother,’” he said. “I underestimated the depths of the man on that first encounter, but I never did it again.”

Mr. Calello left Bankers Trust to co-found Credit Suisse Financial Products, a derivatives giant. “He was the first industry leader to advocate consistent, effective regulation of derivative instruments globally,” a memo to staff from Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan says, “at a time when this was highly controversial.”

By 2002, he’d become CEO of the investment bank in Asia. “We’ve been on holidays together,” Ronald Arculli, the chairman of the Hong Kong stock exchange, said. “Occasionally my wife would joke and say, ‘I wish you’d sound like Paul.’”

At a family trip to Mr. Weld’s house in Keene Valley, the governor’s wife, Leslie Marshall, woke up at 5 a.m. “There was Paul, sweeping the kitchen and making sandwiches,” she said, “ready to launch everybody on the day.”

“Family was paramount and work was just work, and that’s not the vibe you feel with most senior executives. Some don’t even talk about their families, as if they’re invisible, or verboten,” said Credit Suisse’s Grace Koo, who heads a team that structures derivatives for clients. “He’s let me scroll through his digital camera when we were on conference calls.”

He came back to New York in 2007 to helm Credit Suisse’s investment bank. Mr. Ervin, then the firm’s chief risk officer, and now a senior adviser to Mr. Dougan, said that Mr. Calello understood the intensity of what was happening, and what was about to happen. In September 2008, as Lehman and AIG quaked, he was one of the senior executives brought to the New York Fed to work on saving the system.

In December, he and Mr. Dougan announced that executive bonuses would be paid in toxic assets. “He was one of the executives who really did lament the excesses of Wall Street,” Ms. Koo said. “And really did say so.”

In the middle of 2009, he mentioned to colleagues that he wasn’t feeling well. “He said, ‘I haven’t been feeling up to my game,’ which is unusual for Paul; he was one of those guys that needed about 15 minutes of sleep and was game,” Mr. Ervin said. “We attributed that to the strain he was under.”

In September, after his cancer diagnosis, the bank announced he was stepping down temporarily. “You could see it slow him down emotionally once or twice, briefly,” Mr. Ervin said, “but then he would climb back in, and say, ‘How about you? How are you doing?’”

This year, he was named chairman of the investment bank. He was still coming to Credit Suisse about a month before his death. “He was thinner, his hair was gone, but his voice was strong, his intellect was strong,” Mr. Ervin said. “He’d take his Vespa in.”

“What did occur,” Mr. Rockefeller said, “was a very full life of great success.”

He is survived by Ms. DeBevoise, a daughter, triplet sons, three sisters and his parents.

mabelson@observer.com