Monday, May 06, 2002

Ambassador finds pace a challenge

Reynolds in midst of action in Switzerland

By Cliff Peale,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mercer Reynolds was walking off the ninth hole on a golf course in Switzerland late Sept. 11 when a club manager ran out to the course with a cell phone and suggested he call the office. Something had happened. The Indian Hill resident, credentialed that morning as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, hasn't played golf since. Instead, he's working 14- to 16-hour days marshaling support for the U.S. war on terrorism and encouraging the freezing of terrorist assets.

        “It's a lot more complicated than I thought it would be,” said Mr. Reynolds, a businessman and local investor, during a recent telephone interview. “After Sept. 11, it's doubled the workload.”

        Under heavy security that at one point included guards surrounding him whenever he traveled in public, Mr. Reynolds is deep into the three-year term he signed with his friend and former business partner George W. Bush.

        While he isn't sure he will complete the tour of duty — “it's a matter of how long I can keep up this pace” — he said he takes the work extremely seriously and feels he is effectively serving his country.

        It's a change in intensity for the white-haired and soft-spoken investor who made a name over 30 years in Cincinnati with investments in companies including U.S. Playing Card, Synergistics, Buddy's Carpet Barn and the Newport Aquarium.

        Those came through the Reynolds DeWitt & Co. investment firm, formed by Mr. Reynolds with longtime partner and St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt.

        He talks occasionally with old friends in Cincinnati. But he talks constantly with members of the administration and Cabinet, including a few conversations with Mr. Bush.

        “I talk to him when it's important,” Mr. Reynolds said. “Now is not the time for casual conversations.”

Swiss freeze accounts

        One of Mr. Reynolds' most immediate priorities is prodding the Swiss to be vigilant in their search for terrorist assets. So far, it hasn't been a hard sell, with more than 70 accounts containing more than $20 million frozen.

        That's about one-quarter of all the money frozen worldwide, Mr. Reynolds said.

        “They're extremely efficient, and genuinely interested in helping,” he said. “It's not in their best interest to be known as a country that harbors that sort of thing.”

        Swiss laws requiring banks to know the beneficial owners of all accounts make for “a very efficient self-policing operation,” he said.

        For the ambassador, fighting terrorism is about more than money. For example, Switzerland's pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry can be a huge help in determining how to combat potential weapons of mass destruction, the ambassador said.

        “When it comes to terrorism, there is no such word as neutrality,” he said, referring to Switzerland's long-held status in conflicts.

        The terrorist attacks changed Mr. Reynolds' planned daily routine. For about three months, he had a lead car and a follow car whenever he left the embassy, and four agents formed a rectangle around him.

        That security has eased somewhat, but he still has security when he travels outside the capital of Bern.

        “We don't want to be caught off guard, and we don't want others to think we've let our guard down,” he said.

        On a normal day, Mr. Reynolds gets a briefing on the day's events and intelligence, then talks to a variety of federal agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the State Department.

        His days are planned months in advance, usually ending with a formal evening function.

        He has gotten away for some skiing. And in April, he spent several days in Cincinnati, his first since last fall.

        Some things have changed at home. Mr. Reynolds took his name off the door of Reynolds DeWitt, and has no contact with the business operations.

        Mr. DeWitt is handling most of the company's investments. He said Mr. Reynolds still can hold a passive interest in the pair's mutual investments, but can't actively manage the investment.


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