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Exploring the History and Mystery of Brown Brothers Harriman

Gabelli100 | Jul 16, 2021 |

With roots dating back to the 1800s, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. is the oldest and one of the largest private investment banks in the United States. Its influence on the early American economy helped navigate the country through financial turbulence by fueling the cotton trade and the steamship and railroad industries.

The institution’s rich legacy is the focus of longtime investor and former financial services executive Zachary Karabell’s latest book Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power. In a Gabelli School Virtual Centennial Speaker Series webinar sponsored by the Gabelli Center for Global Security Analysis, the CFA Society New York, and the Museum of American Finance, the acclaimed author discussed the organization’s powerful impact on the U.S. financial system and its aura of conspiracy, including its mysterious involvement with the Skull and Bones Society.

Today, much of Brown Brothers’ past would be considered controversial, Karabell said, citing as an example the loans it extended to the Nicaraguan government in the early 20th century.

“One of my guiding themes is that human beings are messy and so is history,” he said. “There are saints and sinners. In many ways, our collective narrative and desire for simplicity and morality get in the way of the complexity of human nature.”

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