When Emmanuel Macron told friends in 2008 he was joining Rothschild, the prestigious investment bank, the then 30-year-old civil servant was warned it could scupper a future career in politics.
“You’re conscious that banking is not any kind of job? And Rothschild not any kind of bank?” said one friend to the man who, nine years later, would become frontrunner in France’s presidential election.
Mr Macron shrugged off the warnings and learnt the ropes of debt restructuring and mergers and acquisitions, earning €2.9m and a nickname — “the Mozart of finance” — for his role advising Nestlé on its $12bn acquisition of a unit of Pfizer in 2012. At Rothschild he found himself at the heart of French business intrigues, acquiring the codes and jargon of a world where careers largely depend on having attended the right elite university.
Now, with France still scarred by the global financial crisis, Mr Macron’s four-year investment banking stint has made him an easy target for rivals in a presidential contest fraught with scandals and populist jabs.