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Saturday, May 20, 2006
The 'Guyanese Mafia in waiting' - Part two: city bankers
Stabroek News
Annabelle and David Pollard

They're young, they're Guyanese and they've done well in the UK. "They" are the "Guyanese Mafia in waiting"; young achievers of Guyanese origin who have crawled up the greasy pole of their careers. Last time, it was doctors and a few finance men. This time, pure finance; two who have made it in the City of London. Both with blue chip names as employers - David Pollard with Salomon, Dylan Samuels with ABN-AMRO.

First, let them speak for themselves "I am David Pollard born in Georgetown, Guyana and currently of Reading, England. I went to school in Guyana and left Queen's College in 1975 as a Guyana Scholar to study Physics at Imperial College, London. Having taken a good First at Imperial I spent a year at St John's College Cambridge doing the (infamous) Part 3 in Applied Mathematics before returning to Imperial for a PhD in Theoretical Physics. In 1983 my wife and I returned to Guyana where I lectured Physics at the University of Guyana and developed a new research programme in Solar Energy. In 1987 I returned to the UK on a Royal Society Fellowship and in 1988 joined British Petroleum Research in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Division.

"In 1994 I left BP, and the world of Industrial Research to join Salomon Brothers as a Quantitative Analyst. I work in Fixed Income Derivatives Research mostly on problems relating to the fair pricing of financial derivatives, risk management and algorithmic trading. Because of their integral role in the capital markets these jobs are stressful and demanding but well rewarded. I often joke that, rather than a 9-5 job, I have a 5-9 one. I get up at 5 am and usually don't get back home until 9 pm!"

And "I am Dylan Samuels, I work in the Finance division in an investment bank-ABN/AMRO. I'm dual nationality Guyanese and British. Guyanese mother. Mixed: Chinese, Indian and Black and British father."

One is born in the UK, the other in Guyana. It is reflected in the optimism. Pollard has Guyanese blue blood running through his veins or at least that of this offspring. He comes from distinguished stock on all sides by birth and marriage: "My family is from Kitty where my grandfather was headmaster at one of the two local schools which was renamed in his honour in the 1980s. The other school in Kitty (also renamed) was run by J.E. Burnham, Forbes Burnham's father. In 1980, despite the rivalry that had existed between these two centres of learning in Kitty I married Annabelle Burnham, the granddaughter of my grandfather's erstwhile competitor! We met during National Service and subsequently at University in England."

Dylan Samuels

Dylan Samuels has only experienced those Guyanese navel strings at one remove: "This sense of family is striking. Being part of the Guyanese community impacts you both in London and North America. This is because you have a natural connection to Guyanese or West Indian people, regardless of where you grow up."

Pollard, with his family traditions in 'public service', education and politics, is full of guilt about Guyana. Thoughtful guilt but guilt all the same: "It is clear that my family life and experiences have taught me to blend my love of the objective rationality of Maths and Science with a concern for people, social responsibility and politics", he says. "In particular, these days, I am driven by a collective sense of guilt about the poor way in which the Guyanese elite has served its people … it is clear that we have failed to give a good account of ourselves in our stewardship of Guyana … I am determined to ensure that much of what I still have left to give should be more to Guyana's good." Strong stuff!

This mini "mafia in waiting" is well cognisant of those in whose footsteps they have followed 'the real Mafia'. Pollard says: "Trevor Phillips was a student leader at Imperial College London while I was there as an undergraduate. He had also been a senior at Queen's College when I was in the junior school. So for me he was a role model and a useful indicator of what was possible for immigrants in England in the 70s." Dylan Samuels is less personally acquainted with the 'Mafia' but still in awe of them: "It shows that there is potential for Guyanese. Also, there is a lot of talent coming out of Guyana."

Both have visited their motherland or mother's land in recent years. One is more positive about development than the other. Samuels is upbeat on the macro and micro level. "In '96, I noticed that Guyana was less developed than some of other areas of the Caribbean that I had been to, but this was not a negative as I also found that the people were particularly friendly and genuine. My last trip was heartening in that there had been a lot of developments. I visited a family in Sophia; this certainly showed how Guyanese and other people in the UK, US and Canada can assist by getting practically involved in such programmes. Here people's assistance has created a small community using finance and their organisational skills."

Pollard, on the other hand, when 'back home' looks away from the city for salvation and looks to the creation of a new political culture in his homeland. "Georgetown and the other "cities", especially New Amsterdam, depress me. But when I get into the interior or away from the disorganised urban sprawl, then I am filled with hope and an abiding sense of a wonderful future. For me Guyana's strength is that it is still all there to be done." But, and as always there is a 'but' with bright Guyanese, "it is evident that the major part of the political solution is the creation of a culture of "fairness" in which ethnicity and gender are not the barriers to economic access, education and culture that they are currently seen to be. This is a mammoth task but the most necessary one."

So, just like Guyana, a pair with opinions which differ. How they and Guyana come together is the national conundrum.

Stabroek News