Riches Among the Ruins by Robert P. Smith



“Smith spent a long, stressful career buying and trading government debts in emerging nations. This “financial Indiana Jones,” as he was called by Forbes magazine, received death threats, placed his own life in jeopardy by trading in countries with repressive governments run by violent dictators, and loved every challenge. This memoir describes his adventures in such international cauldrons as El Salvador, Turkey, Guatemala, Panama, Nigeria, Russia, and Iraq.

Smith is the founder and managing director of the Turan Corporation, which trades in emerging markets, and is regarded as an authority on the debt of the developing world. As a young man with wanderlust he did not want to join his father’s law firm, although he is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Boston University’s Law School. To escape, Smith went to Vietnam in 1968 as a financial officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). There he learned one of his most valuable lessons: successful business depends on knowing and respecting your clients.

To his credit, the author explains patiently the intricacies of bond trading: the buying of government debts and then selling them at a higher cost to third parties brave enough to believe the debts will be paid. During the 1980s, Smith earned $300–$400 million and the nickname, “King of the Jungle Bonds,” in war-torn Nigeria, by facilitating trading with Indian holders of Nigerian bonds.

Smith’s most exciting and nerve-wracking venture was his debt-trading in Russia during the 1990s, when Russia made the arduous transition from communism to capitalism. Organized crime and political assassinations had eroded government stability to a level that the author calls, “the perfect conditions to do business.” In one day, Smith’s Russian holdings plummeted in value from $20 million to $5 million—a staggering loss which the author was able to more than recoup as the country be-came politically stable and oil prices rose.


Although the author does not envision the United States becoming a second- or third-world country, he offers some disturbing observations about a national decline caused primarily by the widening income gap between the rich and the poor. This crackling good yarn about a high roller in the age of globalism will appeal to financial specialists and to general readers—a good choice for public libraries.”
ForeWord Magazine, April 2009


"Usually, the world of finance doesn’t yield memoirs that keep you turning the pages unless it involves criminality as in the case of Bernard Madoff (see below) or a lifestyle of obscene wealth. It’s so rare I get a really interesting memoir by someone from that world that, Riches Among the Ruins by Robert P. Smith with Peter Zheutlin ($24.95, Amacom) is the true exception to the rule.

Smith has been called the King of the Jungle Bonds and compared to Indiana Jones by Forbes magazine. He is truly one of the world’s most fearless financial adventurers. Over the past three decades he has made and lost tens of millions by investing in economies racked by war or revolutions by buying various forms of government debt in the world’s battered economies.

This is what the emerging modern globalization looks like from the steamy streets of El Salvador to a then-new democratic Russia (where he lost $15 million in a single day!) to Iraq’s Green Zone as the war raged outside it. Smith is the founder and managing director of Boston-based Turan Corporation which specializes in trading emerging market sovereign debt and evaluating creditor claims against foreign government. That hardly describes the thrill of traveling with him as he recalls his adventurous life. This is great reading and an insight to the way the real world operates.”

Read It News, “Bookviews” April 2009


“Smith's memoir of a career spent brokering sales of sovereign debts (also known as government debts) makes for a gripping read. With a raconteur's gusto, the author describes his flight from a solidly conservative New England Jewish upbringing into a world of high-stakes wheeling and dealing. He plied his trade in developing markets, where shortages of hard currency force governments to offer promises of payment for imported goods or services. The author bought and sold these debts, thriving on the risk (he lost $15 million in one day in “the ruins of the Russian economy” in 1988) and the rewards (in three years he had more than made up his losses). He details his travels to five continents seeking creditors looking to cut their losses and investors willing to take on the tremendous risk, hoping for a windfall should an ailing government ever fulfill its obligation. Smith clearly explains the mechanics of international debt trading—now a $1.7 trillion industry—and his yarns of successes, failures and dangerous near-misses are thrilling.”
Publishers Weekly, January 12, 2009


“A timely and prophetic excursion to the wilder shores of finance by one who's been there and back.”
—Laurence Bergreen, Award-Winning Biographer, Historian and Author of Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu


“Bob Smith has lived and worked in many corners of the developing world, some obscure and little known, others beautiful but nasty. He has been both a fairly conventional U.S. Government official and a risk-taking entrepreneur. The book offers a taste of Bob's life, sometimes harrowing, sometimes profitable but never boring. A great read!”
—Stephen Bosworth, Former U.S. Ambassador and Dean of the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University


“As one of the most imaginative and skillful financiers working in the behind-the-scene trenches of sovereign debt crises, Robert Smith has written an exciting and enjoyable account of his many ups and downs in the art of asset value creation.”
—Charles Dallara, Managing Director, Institute of International Finance


“Hop scotching the world throughout his career to find opaque financial discontinuities, Bob shares a fascinating tale of intrigue and courage. And unlike most folks in the financial markets, he was always risking his own money!”
—Peter Derow, Former President of Institutional Investor and CBS Publishing Group, Former Chairman and President of Newsweek


“If you wanted to hear what was going on in the more interesting—and dangerous—parts of international finance, you call up Bob Smith. He is the antithesis of the clueless, charmless, tiresome MBAs and careerists who got us into the present mess.”
—John Dizard, Columnist, Financial Times


“Robert Smith is a true expert and pioneer in the art of investing in the emerging and submerging markets. In Riches Among the Ruins he takes us through a tour of fascinating cases. The lessons learned reach the worlds of finance, politics, economics and much more. Pick up a copy and enjoy!” 

—Arminio Fraga, Former President of Central Bank of Brazil


“Robert Smith has charted the deepest and darkest waters of the global financial system. His book is a great adventure story about finding opportunities in developing countries before Wall Street created the term emerging markets.”
—David Hale, Renowned Global Economist, Writer and Speaker


“If you want to understand what goes on behind the scenes in international business and finance, and be treated to a fascinating account of the adventures of a financial entrepreneur who knows the most remote areas on the world on intimate terms, this is the book for you. Riches Among the Ruins is Robert Smith's animated account of his travels deep into the heart of Russia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Iraq and many other nations. In a gripping description of his many odysseys, Smith vividly describes the formidable risks and rewards, and the sense of excitement, of an experienced expert who has done business in these nations for decades.”
 —Robert D. Hormats, Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs


“Bob Smith is a bold “adventure capitalist.” A frontiersman in the risky world of global finance, Smith’s adventures read like a spy novel. And he never ever needed a federal bailout. Bob Smith bails himself out of every international escapade.”
—Robert Lenzner, National Editor, Forbes Magazine


“A real page turner, with economic lessons to be learned in each chapter on globalization and the world's economic connectivity.”
—Gary G. Mueller, Chairman and CEO, Institutional Investor, Founder and Chairman of ISI Emerging Markets


“This is one rollercoaster ride of a story. Robert Smith has bought low and sold high all over the world. He has confronted financial crises, as when he invested in Russia just before its default in 1998. And he has given sage advice about the potential pitfalls of buying bonds in Central America, Africa, and Asia. But mostly, his country-by-country tale offer insights into the potential for all markets, and the adventures that face anyone who invests in debt-laden countries, including the United States.”
 —Frank Partnoy, Author, Speaker and Attorney

“With guts, brains and more than a little chutzpah, bond trader Robert Smith traversed the Third World for three decades searching for fortune and often finding that adventure came along with the deals. Riches Among the Ruins is a colorful, intensely personal chronicle of life on the early frontiers of globalization.”
—Richard M. Smith, Chairman, Newsweek


“Bob Smith, the pioneer in emerging market debt investing, shares his incredible adventures with lucky readers who can learn so much about risk and life from this book.” 
—John D. Spooner, Author and Investment Advisor


"Compared to Indiana Jones by Forbes magazine, Robert P. Smith is one of the world’s most fearless financial adventurers. His book, Riches Among the Ruins: Adventures in the Dark Corners of the Global Economy (Amacom, March 2009), captures his experiences and insights over the last 30 years of trading in Third World debt. Spanning the development of emerging markets, Riches Among the Ruins follows Mr. Smith’s movements as he races through the streets of Baghdad after the fall of Saddam, wheels and deals on the streets of Vietnam, and loses more than $15 million dollars in one day in post-communist Russia. We travel with him through the precarious and exhilarating world of the debt trader as he negotiates with unseemly businessmen on the streets of Istanbul, ducks shakedown artists in Nigeria, and alternately charms and infuriates corporate big shots in Guatemala.

Adrenaline-fueled and utterly compelling, this is the gripping story of one man’s quest for fortune where others feared to tread. He says, “When I started in this business, the phrase ‘global economy’ wasn’t even in my dictionary. But in my own small way, I helped pioneer a niche in the emerging global financial market-the trade of sovereign debt which has grown from a few million dollars a year to more than $1.7 trillion annually.

Riches Among the Ruins looks back on big trading days—before the widespread, instant availability of information, when no one had a clue what value to attach to a Nigerian promissory note. Mr. Smith reflects: “It was a hell of a run, filled with vibrant characters and cockamamie schemes that, even today, seem incredible, even though I thought up some of them myself.”

The Roxbury Latin Newsletter (April 2009)


Buy the Book!