It was Marie Antoinette who, as the legend has it, replied, ‘Let them eat cake’ when it was pointed out to her the poor of France didn’t even have even bread to keep body and soul together.
Another notable Frenchwoman who has also had a run in over cake is our very own Nathalie Dauriac, star of wealth management and the London courts.
She has just been talking about her acrimonious court case with former associate, phones multi-millionaire John Caudwell over the running of her firm which he had backed – Signia Wealth Management. A highlight of the case, if that is the word, was extensive examination of her expense account.
The rather aristocratic Nathalie (she has her own chateau) still insists she has emerged the winner in legal saga but does accept, unlike her 18th century countrywoman, that cake was not perhaps a wise choice.
(Interestingly, Marie Antoinette became known as Madame Déficit during the French revolution because the country's financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending and her opposition to various social and financial reforms.)
The Caudwell camp--unfairly described by some as present-day Robespierres—contended that Nathalie’s expenses at Signia, including a £104 birthday cake for her former husband Konrad Stoebe were improper. Frankly, we disagree. For other expenditure, at a posh hairdressers and for travel, were also entirely bona fide, she rightly insists. Private clients insist that their advisers are, to say the least, well turned out.
Still, Nathalie confesses, “That is a cake I will regret for the rest of my life but it is blown out of proportion. To put it in context, most of the money was spent on travel to see John (Caudwell). We did £600 million of business on the back of £33,000 of expenses over three years.
“The judge didn’t believe it was wholly and necessarily in the course of business, but this is how our industry works. I disagree with the judge’s view, but there is nothing I can do about it.”
The cake, incidentally, was served subsequently served at a client dinner.
The doughty Ms Dauriac still says she has come out ahead in the whole case because John Caudwell was ordered to pay £500,000 for her shares. The judge also ruled she was constructively dismissed, after she was ousted from the wealth management business she set up with him and given a token £2 for her shares.
While Mr ‘writs for you’ Caudwell counter-claims that he won the case, the entirely admirable La Dauriac points out in a current media interview that “I had to sell my house in Hampstead to fight for justice. I think John believed I couldn’t afford to go to court, but I felt I had no choice than to fight.”
She now lives with her partner, Dan, a lawyer, and the four children they have between them. She denies suggestions that third parties were bankrolling her case, saying: “I funded it myself. I had to put the financial security of my family at risk.”
We are of course unashamed admirers of Nathalie, who set up Signia in 2009 after leaving Coutts. John Caudwell was the controlling shareholder with a 51 per cent stake and was also a major client. She had a 49 per cent stake.
“I founded that business from my sofa at home with £300,000. I put in my sweat equity,” she says.
Though she was awarded £500,000, Nathalie still argues her shares were worth far more. She says that the judge valued Signia at around £5 million.
“I was never seeking figures like the £20 million suggested by John, but I believe my shares have been grossly undervalued,” she says, adding ominously, “I’m considering my options on that.”
As we all know, Nathalie has meanwhile started a new firm, Hay Hill Wealth Management, chaired by City grandee Lord Fink, the former boss of Man Group. She says Hay Hill now has hundreds of millions of pounds of funds under management.
As we have intimated before, to see this wonderful and brave woman potentially subject to the equivalent of the City of London’s merciless guillotine would be a tragedy. We are happy to see French business leave London in droves after Brexit, if they decide so to go.
But Nathalie must surely continue to adorn our London wealth business. We will defend her to our last breath, as one of the most outstanding examples of our neighbouring country’s celebrated esprit de corps in the way that she can motivate a team to back her ventures, first at Signia and now, Hay Hill.
So vive la Nathalie. And all those who would be vulture-like tricoteuse, be off with you.
Le pip pip