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Rothschilds hiring agent

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Business profile: The woman who keeps the bankers' secrets
(Filed: 27/07/2003)

Nobody does it like Philippa Rose, the diva among City headhunters. Sophie Barker meets the woman who keeps tabs on every financier around

Philippa Rose is nervous. As the headhunter of choice for London's investment banking elite, this multi-millionaire mother-of-four is on first-name terms with everyone who matters in the Square Mile.

She found most of them their jobs, and they are regulars at her smart Notting Hill dinner parties. But she doesn't do media interviews. Which is why she reaches for her glass of white wine within minutes of meeting me over lunch in The Rose Partnership's discreet Copthall Avenue offices.

"I'm so open, I see everyone as a friend and no one as a foe. I should have become more cynical over the years, but I haven't," she tells me in cut-glass tones.

Behind the jitters is a likeable, ballsy and straight-talking 44-year-old who started the City's most respected headhunting boutique aged just 22, worked "incredibly hard" and 14 years later walked out on her husband and four children under seven in "an explosion of not being able to cope".

The kids still live with their father, although she is "incredibly close to all four - I have had a much more focused time with them since I left home".

Rose admits that her personal life may have suffered over the past 22 years (although the tale that one of her pregnancies was induced so she could make a client meeting is untrue). Her company, on the other hand, has flourished. She reckons it is worth about 17m - and she owns all the equity.

The Rose Partnership was born in 1981, after she had spent 18 months in fixed-interest fund management at Kleinworts, which was "an incredibly chauvinistic environment; I was eleven-and-a-half stone and smoked 20 cigarettes a day, that's how unhappy I was".

(For the record, Rose is now slim and bonkers about complementary medicine.) Anyway, she spotted a gap in the headhunting market for middle-ranking investment bankers and, after a year at a recruitment agency, she borrowed 7,500 to set up on her own.

Fast forward two decades and her erstwhile candidates are running the City's investment banks, while her core clients (Rothschilds, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, Barclays Capital and Gartmore) rarely look at another headhunter. The legendary database which she set up in 1986 to help her match bankers to job specs has Stasi-like files on 85,000 financiers across Europe.

One client says: "The file on me blew me away: she knew so much about me. That's what convinced me and now she does all my headhunting. I'd pay a lot of money to get into that database!"

All of which explains why Rothschilds turned to Rose when it needed to replace Sir Evelyn de Rothschild as head of both its London bank and the Swiss holding company earlier this year. In the end, her search was in vain, because Rothschilds opted for an internal reshuffle. It didn't stop her charging a hefty up-front fee for her work.

The firm's fees have ensured it generated cash from day one. It typically charges 33 per cent of a candidate's annual pay packet. So headhunting the managing director of an investment bank at the height of the tech boom would have netted Rose a whacking 717,000.

These days, the figure has halved to 358,000. And that's assuming the commission isn't capped - a cost-cutting ruse imposed by the banks, which Rose fought until this year when "even I have had to capitulate". The result? The Rose Partnership's revenues slumped by half to 5.5m in the 12 months to June 2003.

Having worked through the downturn of the early 1990s, she says she spotted this recession coming three years ago, when she started squirrelling away some of the firm's profits in anticipation of leaner times. She has also cut the company's head count from 52 to 32 and ditched its famous massage and hairdressing bill: consultants (80 per cent of whom are women) now have to pay for their own highlights and shiatsus.

"[The climate] feels challenging but not frightening. It's anybody's guess when this is going to turn around. I am reckoning that we are going to be in for a bumpy ride for a further 12 months. I'm not an economist, but I read an awful lot of economics articles and I know which ones resonate with me," she says, patting her own perfect brunette hair-do. Those Notting Hill soirees must be rather gloomy these days.

Rose may not be an economist, but she has come a long way since deciding, aged 17, that she wanted to be an opera singer. Her parents, a senior City broker and a psychotherapist, allowed the second of their five children to move to Perugia and learn Italian, where "it became clear that I wasn't going to be an opera diva: somebody told me that I was chorus material, when I wanted to be at the front of the stage, wearing the prettiest dress."

She swapped Puccini and Mozart for the breeze blocks of Bristol Polytechnic and a higher national diploma in business studies which she "absolutely hated". Fuelled by "a desire to be approved of by my parents", she fled Bristol in her second year for Kleinworts where she was paid enough to buy her first house and unleash one of her passions: interior design.

Rose has worked her way through Elizabethan (a 1540 manor house in Kent), Georgian (the seven-bedroom family home in Notting Hill) and contemporary ethnic (her flat, also in Notting Hill, complete with "African kitchen, Italian frescoes on the walls, Moroccan pots everywhere and Ethiopian chairs").

Her next stop is an "incredibly contemporary" chalet in Verbier. Oh yes, and a country home in which to enjoy her "gorgeous" husband of two months James D'Arcy.

"I was the first divorcee to get married at St Paul's Knightsbridge. I wore a very pale blue, silk dress with a train and pearls stitched all the way down the back - heavenly." There is a lilt in her voice of the starry-eyed wannabe opera singer (the only singing she does these days is "with my full, professional karaoke machine").

Rose's "life coach" Rebecca Ward, who specialises in stressed-out City types, says of D'Arcy: "He takes out her shoulder pads when she gets home and she isn't allowed to speak until she gets out of her City suit."

The screw-top mini bottle of white wine is empty and we have moved on to coffee and brownies. So what next for the woman who tried to have it all?

Well, rebuilding the personal side of her life is high on her agenda, with her new man and different priorities. That doesn't mean giving up work, though - partly because she hasn't replenished her bank account since the divorce settlement.

"I don't feel like a rich woman; I know many women in the City who are a hell of a lot better off than I am." That's as may be, but she sounds like a bit of a role model for aspiring female wealth-creators to me.

Anyway, couldn't she get her millions back in a stroke by selling the firm? "If someone offered me a silly price, I would have to listen, but I love this business so much. I don't want it to consume my life like it has in the past, but it still feels like a family."

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