Interview with Financial Thriller author George Ugeux

GU-June 2013 - High Resolution
6/6/2013, New York—George Ugeux, chairman en CEO of Galileo Global Advisers, at Rockefeller Center. Photo Rene Clement

A Belgian and U.S. national, Georges Ugeux is the Chairman and CEO of Galileo Global Advisors LLC, an investment banking advisory boutique. Ugeux joined the New York Stock Exchange in 1996, as Group Executive Vice President, International. An adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, Ugeux is the author of a numerous nonfiction books about finance. The Flying Dragon is his first work of fiction. For more information about Georges Ugeux, visit: www.georgesugeux.com

What led you to write this book?

I always wanted to write a novel, and the mystery genre seemed to be the right setting for the financial world that I know and am working in, but also often find dysfunctional. For me, it was another way to help readers understand that the financial industry can be dysfunctional – so much so, that when passion and sex become factors, it becomes a natural environment for fraud and crime. I was also able to draw from my own experiences from that world to fuel the plot.

Which is more important characters or setting?

By choosing a young Chinese woman as the protagonist, I was inevitably focused on settings in Asia. While the story does include mainland China ramifications, Hong Kong was the perfect setting. However, it was because of the lead character, Victoria Leung that I chose China, not the other way around. I have found that the most fascinating part of fiction writing is the creation of characters.

Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life?

Victoria Leung does have characteristics of several Chinese women I know well. While none of these women would entirely recognize themselves in Victoria’s character, beauty, strength in character, assertiveness and vulnerability are all common to each of them. In the end, while Victoria Leung is unique, I could not have created her without the rich interactions I’ve had with these women.

What do you hope readers take away from your work?

I hope the readers will like Victoria Leung as much as I enjoyed creating her. I want readers to understand while I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences in the financial industry, there is a dark side of finance – one in which honest and dishonest people live in ongoing conflict of values. It is the eternal fight between the good and the bad, (with seduction from both sides). I also hope that readers will recognize the humanity of the characters I have created.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I have a day job. I run a boutique investment bank that is very active in many parts of the world, including China. I also teach finance at Columbia Law School. Writing has become a passion of mine and I do it every day for one reason or another. The fact that it is not my only activity helps me to avoid the blockage some authors feel when their Muse is silent. I have the luxury of writing only when I feel inspired.

Have you ever written a scene that ‘creeped’ you out?

There is violent aggression in the book. For me, it was the most difficult passage to write because I found it difficult to create and describe a scene involving something I deeply hate: hate crimes. I relied on several of my female readers to make sure I was being respectful without betraying the facts.

Do you have a favorite writing place or writing rituals?

I travel a lot and often have long flights: This is my favorite time to write. What’s next for you? I’m currently in the process of finishing a non-fiction book on central banking. Additionally, I will soon have the French and Chinese editions of The Flying Dragon, followed by Victoria Leung’s next adventures…in London.

9781480818569_COVER.inddExcerpt from THE FLYING DRAGON:

The crowd around the Hong Kong Arts Center seemed happy as they streamed out of the concert by talented Chinese pianist Yuja Wang. They enthusiastically shared their impressions about her beauty, musicality, and talent. Some of the patrons had seen videos of Yuja Wang playing Chopin at the age of six. Victoria Leung was so in sync with the music she had played tonight: Schubert’s impromptus. She also felt so close to the pianist, who commanded the keyboard and seemed on the verge of tears when the third impromptu moved from lightness to depth and passion. At twenty-seven, Yuja Wang was one of the best-known pianists of her generation and now lived in the United States. She had the same drive, intensity, and grace as Victoria herself.

The Center’s superb architecture had always given Victoria pleasure. It was modern without ostentation, and its its acoustics were close to perfect. Over the years, classical music had increasingly been a source of inspiration in the Chinese world, and the public was ecstatic. For a Chinese pianist to reach this level of excellence and artistry was a source of pride.

Since she had left the financial fraud department of the Hong Kong Police Force, Victoria Leung had enjoyed the freedom attached to her new status of senior detective at Pegasus, an international firm headquartered in London. She intended to fully enjoy this period of her life. Having a family was not on her agenda. Like most thirty-six-year-old women, though, she was starting to give it some thought. Her biological clock inexorably ticked. She knew it. But at the same time, she didn’t know what to do about that reality.

Victoria was an assertive and attractive young woman well aware of the impact she had on the male-dominated financial world of Greater China. She had initially faced difficulty demonstrating her leadership and competence, partly because of her good looks, femininity, and youth. She had learned to turn these qualities into assets that she used subtly and wisely. While she remained vulnerable to some aggressive behavior from male colleagues, she knew how to garner respect. Her body was slim and strong; she exercised regularly. She liked having the freedom to wear dresses and skirts rather than a police uniform. But what struck everybody who met her was the power of her demeanor and her smile, which revealed her complexity.

++++

Wearing a short red dress, Victoria drank her green tea as she peered through the glass of her office windows into the Hong Kong morning: Kowloon Bay on one side and the old British Empire buildings and parks at the center of Hong Kong on the other. The traffic was penetrating and created an impression of energy and intensity. Hong Kong was not a city for the fainthearted. Victoria was an early bird, and relished the atmosphere of the office before anybody else was in. She was in control and serene.

Victoria looked down at the document on her desk:

Henry Chang is in danger. I urgently need to meet you. Meet me at 9:00 a.m. at the Mandarin Oriental for coffee. I desperately need your help. —Diana Y.

Victoria was stunned. For Diana Yu to send such a dramatic message was unusual. Henry Chang was Diana’s former lover until he broke it off and publicly humiliated her. Now, Diana was asking Victoria to help the bastard. It didn’t add up. Did Diana still have feelings for him? Victoria hoped not, but it was the only explanation that made sense. She sighed. If it had been Chang asking, Victoria would have said no. But Diana was a dear friend. If she was willing to swallow her pride and ask for help, then the least Victoria could do was find out why.

Diana Yu and Victoria had started together at the Hong Kong Police Force. Soon after, Henry Chang became Diana’s boyfriend. While she had given the relationship all she had, she was never sure whether Henry was playing or being earnest. Unexpectedly, after they had dated for a year, he dropped her for a Hong Kong socialite, Helena Lee. He then became head of the fixed-income department of the Bank of Hong Kong and Shanghai, or BHS. The breakup had been particularly painful for Diana since Henry had been cruel enough to do it publicly at a 2012 New Year’s party.

Diana was now reaching out through a confidential police cable; whatever had happened to Henry must have been fairly dramatic. The Wan Chai Police headquarters was close to Hong Kong Central and near the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

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