Sir Edward Blount (1809-1905): a British citizen at the head of Societe Generale
Edward Blount, the British financier, was one of the founding fathers of Societe Generale, of which he ultimately became Chairman. Profile of a Francophile banker with many talents, who left his mark on the Group's history.
Edward Blount was born into a family of rich British landowners in 1809. A serious and diligent student, with a very open mind, he received the excellent education that befitted a young man from the Catholic landed gentry. He was introduced to the world of finance, political circles, and diplomacy thanks to the influence of his father, who was a joint founder of Provincial Bank of Ireland. Following a brief period at the Home Office, Edward Blount offered his services to the Foreign Office. He was initially appointed as an attaché to the British Embassy in Paris, before being assigned to the British Consulate in Rome. However, the young aristocrat soon had further ambitions. He became a banker at the correspondent bank for Callaghan & Co, an English bank, in 1831, and then set up on his own account. Three years later, he turned a new page by joining Charles Laffitte, in order to set up a credit institution aimed at supporting the foundation of metal-working and railway firms on both sides of the Channel thanks to the backing of the Rothschild Family. The Industrial Revolution was at its peak. Edward Blount was fascinated by locomotives, so much so that he sometimes drove them himself, and worked on developing the French rail network, which resulted in him joining the Board of Directors of around half a dozen railway companies. Moreover, he boosted his reputation in the European banking market as an intermediary of choice between British finance and the French entrepreneurial world. The spirit of enterprise, as he often said, was his "reason for being"; he chose to become resident in France, his adoptive country. Fame was already beckoning.
However, Edward Blount suffered a serious setback. He was bankrupted by the financial crisis of 1847. The following year, at the time of the July Monarchy, he helped Louis-Philippe and his family flee to England. Far from giving up, he applied himself to repaying his creditors and preparing his return to business. Success was within his reach. In 1851, he set up a partnership, Edward Blount & Co, with the help of his English network, which enabled him to back the launch of a large number of industrial firms. His business activities expanded rapidly as the years went by. Accordingly, we find him as a member of the Board of Directors of the Compagnie de Chemin de Fer Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée (PLM), and as a founding member of Compagnie Générale des Eaux, of which he became Chairman in 1862. When circumstances permitted, he did not hesitate to extend his reach beyond the French borders. Outside France, he was specifically involved in the industrialisation of the Ruhr Valley via the Société des Mines et Fonderies du Rhin. In Italy, meanwhile, he offered his skills to the Holy See, by organising the issuance of a series of Papal Loans in France, and was behind the initiative to transfer a portion of the Vatican's debts to the new Italian State following the Risorgimento.
Edward Blount was driven by the idea of progress, and became one of the founding fathers of Societe Generale, a credit institution intended to "encourage the development of trade and industry in France". This was a fortuitous choice at a time when the signing of various free-trade treaties from 1860 onwards created an environment that was favourable to the rapid development of the capital market and of the world of entrepreneurship. Edward Blount, who was positioned at the heart of Paris' business networks, and had close links with the City, provided all his experience and know-how, and his own business assets. This effective support soon enabled Societe Generale to ensure that its investments bore fruit, and to participate fully in international business trends. Edward Blount's colleagues were stunned by his capacity for work, his excellent memory, his calm nature and his iron will. Over the years, he demonstrated unfailing self-denial and commitment. During the Winter of 1870-1871, when the Prussian troops were besieging Paris, Blount took care of his fellow countrymen's interests in his capacity as the British Consul. Following the surrender, he organised the distribution of food supplies from England to the starving Parisians. Furthermore, it was on Edward Blount's initiative that the Board of Directors of Societe Generale took the initiative to open a branch office in London, at the heart of the City, the international finance hub. The Bank was entering into a new era. This was the first time that it had set up operations abroad via a direct representative office.
Edward Blount left his mark on Societe Generale's history. He was a Director (1864-1902), Vice-Chairman (1870-1886) and then Chairman (1886-1902) of the Bank. Although he handed over executive responsibility for the Bank to Baron Hély d'Oissel, his Vice-Chairman, in 1888, the British aristocrat nonetheless continued to take care of the interests of what he affectionately called "the House". Edward Blount loved horses and was a regular at race tracks, as well as a member of Paris and London's smart clubs. He was Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Paris, a Knight Commander of the Légion d'Honneur, and a Knight of the Bath. He retired to England in 1901, and died at his Sussex manor house, four years later, at the age of almost 100.
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