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High-flying lessons in parenthood

Parenting lessons for the financial elite

They may be financial titans but City mothers and fathers are turning to family coaches for advice on how to bring up their children

Karen Robinson





Quality time with the children takes on a new meaning if you’re a City banker, mired in the culture of long hours and charting every lurch of a febrile stock market. Bedtime story? Maybe next week . . .

However, lack of time to help little Warren with his homework has not stopped some of the masters and mistresses of the financial universe wanting the very best for him. So parents who work in the City are increasingly turning to experts for advice on how to turn their children into mini-alphas – just like them.

Can a child’s academic problems really be solved by parents attending hour-long lunchtime sessions with a former primary school teacher, though? Rachel Vecht believes she can make a difference. Today she’s in the towering marble and plate-glass citadel of Lehman Brothers in Canary Wharf, east London, where a group of the investment bank’s employees are learning how to help their own children with their homework.

There is no surreptitious BlackBerrying as the 10 women and 12 men – from senior executives to support staff – listen to Vecht outlining how to set realistic goals for children and encourage them to learn.

Then the questions start. A confident-looking American in a pink shirt, asks: “Given that we’re oriented towards achievement, how can we go about this? My tendency would be to want my son to be well ahead of where he should be.”

Take the lead from his teachers on what he’s capable of, Vecht advises gently.

The grey-suited mother of a nine-year-old wants to know how to “motivate” him. “He won’t give his all and live up to his potential,” she complains.

Vecht suggests setting small targets, recognising attainments with rewards, “one step at a time. Don’t just say: ‘I expect you to be perfect at everything'”.

Then she tells a story about her brother, obviously tailored for this audience. He was a waster, she says, until at 16 he discovered his focus and drive, buckled down – “and ended up running a hedge fund”.

“But what if it never hap-pens?” is the plaintive response from a quiet man at the back. He pours out the story of his 18-year-old daughter, who has dropped out of school and college, demonstrating a stubborn lack of desire to achieve that is totally baffling to her high-performing parent. “What on earth are we going to do,” he wails.

Vecht says she can talk to him later – everyone who comes to the courses can phone her afterwards for more help.

Back in the room with Vecht, there are nods of recognition as, one after another, the assembled City high-flyers reveal their worries about helping with primary-school maths homework. They are at a loss, they say, because the way they work with numbers is so different from the school’s way of teaching. Others don’t think their children’s teachers demand a high enough standard of handwriting.

Vecht’s company, Educating Matters – which also gives courses on reading, numeracy, exams and selecting schools – has been brought in through the bank’s Leaf (Lehman Brothers Employees and Families) network. It provides other experts to advise on children’s sleep and eating problems, and there is even a class for first-time fathers.

Lehman is not alone in this trend to “help employees manage the demands of their careers and personal lives” – in the words of Raj Ray, the company’s European head of diversity, who sees the network as a means of getting everyone to “operate at optimal level”. And unlike much of the City’s corporate culture, he points out, this is not an American import. “The New York office doesn’t have a Leaf network.”

The idea is big in Britain, though. Vecht’s clients include Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley – “all the big investment banks”.

Kevin Dixon, 36, a commercial analyst at Lehman, attends Vecht’s homework session, though his daughter Aminah is only four. “I want to get the fundamentals right early on,” he says, adding that he has taken away some ideas to share with his wife Luna, who does not work.

One of his colleagues tells me Lehman is more family friendly than his last employer – “a Japanese car manufacturer, which had no family focus except a children’s Christmas party. That’s one of the reasons I left”.

And, of course, one of the reasons firms are bringing in the family coaches. “For these firms to recruit new staff costs a fortune,” says Vecht. “It’s an inexpensive way to keep them happy, given the hours they work – even if they take my information and pass it on to the nanny at home.”

Ray confirms that the parenting consultants have “very high impact for relatively low cost -a few hundred pounds per event – and do reduce staff turnover”.