Clark I reviews books and sometimes writes them!
Riches Among the Ruins
Author: Robert P Smith with Peter Zheutlin
ISBN: 978-0-8144-1060-8, Pages: 243, $24.95
Publication Date: March 31, 2009,
Hardcover, Biography, Published by: Amacom
Robert P. Smith is the founder and managing director
of Turan Corporation in Boston and
established an international debt collection practice. For more than 30 years, Smith
made and lost millions by investing in emerging markets while traveling through
many war-torn countries riddled by war, poverty and corruption. Robert
Smith engaged in fascinating adventures while
pursuing his quest for money.
Starting in 1984, Robert Smith traveled the streets of El
Salvador during its civil war to make money
trading dollar denominated bonds. He
became the middleman “buying various forms of government debt in the world’s
battered economies from pessimists and selling to optimists”. He performed his
job while keeping a low-key profile. He
made friends easily and learned from taxi cab drivers. They always seemed to
know about local conditions from economics to political insight. In these early
years, he made $100,000 profit on each trip.
Bob began debt trading in Turkey, a country he describes as “mystical”. He remembered the walk through the bazaars
where displays of copper and brass, gold jewelry and exotic spice were enjoyed
15 years earlier. Instead, he found Istanbul a ghost town. In
1980, the country went broke, came under military power, with political and
financial unrest. Sent by an American
client, Smith was
hired to collect a $25,000 debt. He
stood to make a lot of money on other claims. He bought and sold Turkish trade
claims until 1982, making over 2 million dollars.
Ready for another adventure and looking for more “Riches Among the Ruins”, Smith went to Nigeria to make money. In 1988, the
onset of computers aided Smith and his partner.
He says “the days of keeping crude records were over”. Business became easier and busier. Nigeria
intrigued Bob even with its risks and heavy drug trade. Smith got to be well-known as the “King of the Jungle Bonds” due to his
Nigerian connection. In a period of over 3 to 4 years, Nigeria bought
back about 1.5 billion of its 4.7 billion in debt. Bob’s company sourced more than 1.2 billion of this debt. Never had Bob made so much money as he did
in Nigeria. He says “that life has a way
to even things out”, a lesson he learned from the “new” Russia.
In 1988, Smith went to Russia to get a feel for the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. Crime was almost non-existent during Soviet days. Moscow had transformed into a grand and elegant city, but was fraught with
drugs, thugs, gangs, prostitution, and organized crime. This seemed the perfect time for Bob to do some business in
collecting Russian debts. Russia was rich with natural gas and oil, diamond and gold reserves, and had
14.5 billion of foreign exchange reserves.
Russia became deeply in debt borrowing more than it could repay to investors. Bob’s 20 million dollar investment declined to 5 million. Russia’s
inflation soared to 100% and Smith went back home with Russian debt, including Euro bonds. Smith came out whole when his investments regained their value and he
recouped his paper losses.
All of Smiths economic lessons were learned along the way in search of “Riches Among the Ruins”, making him a very wealthy
man. His skillfulness, adventuresome spirit, and fearless bravery, made him one
of the best financial entrepreneurs in the world.
“Riches Among the Ruins” reads like a spy novel and its suspenseful travel episodes make for a very entertaining read.