Insight and investigations from our expert reporters
Checking background for our Special Report on Glencore, “The Biggest Company You Never Heard Of”, I stumbled on the novel “The Fortunes of Glencore” by Charles Lever. On a whim I read it. There were some intriguing parallels between the 20th-century company and the book, even though that was published in 1857.
The further I read, the more I asked myself if this little heard-of scrap of 19th-century literature couldn’t be used as some kind of coda. It sounds crazy, but maybe you can understand the temptation. Glencore is a secretive, controversial Swiss-based commodities trading and mining giant, and even though it may soon be quoted on the London and Hong Kong stock exchanges, it works hard to maintain its mystique. Could this little novel be some kind of “Da Vinci Code” for Glencore?
MYSTERY AND EXILE
The Glencore of the book is a mysterious figure to all those around him: “Little, or indeed nothing, was known of Lord Glencore…” it says. “‘Who is Lord Glencore?’ people would say. ‘What is the strange story of his birth? Has anyone yet got at the truth?’”
That’s the company to a tee.
We know it emerged from a management buyout of Marc Rich + Co — Rich was a fugitive from U.S. justice in Switzerland after he was found to have sold oil to Iran during the 1979-81 hostage crisis. But apart from that, beyond a sense that it’s an omnipresent commodities trader with secretive high- level connections in just about any country that has raw materials, there’s not an awful lot more in the public consciousness.