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Profile: Ian Bremmer

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-02-09

Since corporations and financial institutions in New York are full of smart people who understand their business and the world well, the reporter asked Ian Bremmer, why would anyone want to pay him large consulting fees to tell them what they might already know?

Dr. Bremmer took that question in stride, as befitting a former professor at Stanford University and an academic wunderkind accustomed to impudent queries from inexperienced students.

"Because it's become a very complex world, especially after September 11, 2001," he said. "Because political will matters at least as much to the market as economic fundamentals."

Just how much politics matters in economic decision-making can be assessed by the remarkable rise of the company Dr. Bremmer founded in 1998 with $25,000 from his $50,000 bank account (the remaining amount was given as a down-payment for his Manhattan co-op). In barely seven years, The Eurasia Group has developed a network of nearly 500 associates in 65 countries, with some 40 highly talented analysts working in Dr. Bremmer's Fifth Avenue headquarters in New York.

Companies like Metromedia, American International Group (AIG), Bear Stearns, Boeing, British Petroleum, Credit Suisse First Boston, ExxonMobil, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, News Corporation, Putnam, Shell, and Tudor, have hired him to read the political tea leaves. Some of them pay him in the seven figures.

"Defining the business of politics," is how the youthful Dr. Bremmer -- he's barely 40 but his fitness suggests the mid 20s -- describes his vocation. "Or to put it another way, I make political science relevant to global decision-making."

And what does that mean?

"The decision makers in business, in industry, in banking, in finance -- they don't get to see a lot of people who bring politics to the marketplace," Dr. Bremmer said. "I make them think differently about risk taking. It's not just information that matters any longer -- there's a surfeit of information these days -- but a new, smarter way of thinking. My business isn't about being fuzzy. You've got to make a call; you've got to convey your judgments on the global situations, especially at a time when American business is expanding internationally."

He's not selling his clients his formidable Rolodex, which contains contacts from 191 countries, the membership of the United Nations. He's not selling them ideology: "I've always been mistrustful of ideology," Dr. Bremmer said.

He's not selling them bromides with which to do better business from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. He's not selling hot tips about business opportunities.

"I'm giving detailed analysis of global emerging markets," Dr. Bremmer said. "This means providing an understanding of the drivers of economic growth. It means providing a sharp understanding of statistical data. It means figuring out what the bottlenecks are that hinder economic growth and development in various countries. It means offering insight into how political decisions are made in those countries."

So what is he telling his clients these days about the global economy? The reporter realized that he was asking Dr. Bremmer to yield trade secrets, and that too, only for the price of lunch.

But the man who was born in a Massachusetts housing project, who put himself through college with high distinction, who became the youngest ever fellow of the faculty of the Hoover Institution when he was 25, who held positions at the East-West Institute in Honolulu, and who has authored three books, including a standard college text on post-Soviet states, Nations and Politics in the Soviet Successor States (Cambridge University Press,
1993) -- this man took this question in stride also.

"There's going to be a significant deterioration of relations between America and Russia," Dr. Bremmer said. "Russia is moving toward a much more opaque and dangerous state. There will be greater focus on the part of the U.S. and Japan on China, and a growing cooperation between them on how to deal with China's extraordinary growth. There will be conflict with rogue states such as Sudan and Myanmar, and certainly economic tensions with China. A lot of money is going to be made in China, and on China.

"And there's a growing likelihood of Israel making a surgical strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Kuwait will be risk prone, just like Saudi Arabia. And there will be big economic opportunities in Turkey, Brazil, Eastern Europe, Indonesia and Southeast Asia and, of course, India."

Arriving at these kinds of predictions may seem facile, but to Dr. Bremmer it involves a lot of detailed political and economic research. He has, in fact, fashioned quite a reputation in New York's financial circles for his assessments of political risks in various parts of the world.

In 2001, for example, Dr. Bremmer authored Wall Street's first global political risk index, now the DESIX (Deutsche Bank Eurasia Group Stability Index) -- a joint venture with investment bank Deutsche Bank. The
DESIX brings together Eurasia Group political scientists with Deutsche economists and strategists.

Is he surprised by his success?

No hesitation on Dr. Bremmer's part.

"I found a niche early on," he said, with typical brio. "What's surprised me is that it all has happened so quickly."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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