A former Goldman, Sachs & Co. power player who helped engineer the largest takeover ever changes course to pursue fine art photography. Is it a midlife crisis? An overworked banker's need to decompress? Not exactly. For Scott Mead, becoming a photographer was part of a plan he mapped out early in his banking career.
"I had a personal commitment to myself that I was going to make a change by the age of 50, which I did," says Mead, 56, who in 2000 advised Vodafone AirTouch plc on its record $180 billion acquisition of German telecom Mannesman AG. In 2003 Mead left his post as co-head of Goldman Sachs' global communications, media and entertainment group in London to "reconnect with some of [his] passions," namely, philanthropy and photography. In the years since, in addition to supporting various organizations in education, medical research and the arts, Mead has redevoted himself to a craft he first took up as a teenager in New Jersey.
Last year, an exhibition of 25 of Mead's photos from his younger years, entitled "Looking Back," was held at London's famed Hamiltons Gallery. Mead says the images, all circular, reflect his artistic aim of making "ordinary scenes that we are often too busy to notice extraordinary in some way." Proceeds from the show were donated to the Children's Charity at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, which cared for Mead's son Alex when he was diagnosed with leukemia at 6 months old.
"What better place to support than the place that cured your kid?" asks Mead, noting that Alex is now 19 and enrolled at Harvard.
In March 2011, Mead donated "Evening Light," a circular photo of a tree at dusk, to New York's Park Avenue Armory Art Show to raise funds for the Henry Street Settlement, a nonprofit program for lower-income residents of New York's Lower East Side. In August he showed his work at an exhibition mounted by the Addison Gallery of American Art at his alma mater, Phillips Academy, in Andover, Mass. Both "Evening Light" and "Untitled," a photo of a beach dotted with umbrellas, were selected for the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2011 in London. Mead hopes to exhibit new work in New York in late 2012 and again at Hamiltons in 2013, with proceeds going to Great Ormond Street.
It's quite a change for someone who during a 17-year career at Goldman limited his photography to snapping family photos. But Mead says it was always a passion. He received his first camera at age 13 from his grandfather, a photographer and journalist for the Erie Times-News, a Pennsylvania newspaper founded by his great-grandfather John Mead in 1888 and still owned by his family's Times Publishing Co. In college he studied under renowned photographer Emmet Gowin at Princeton University and William Eggleston when he transferred to Harvard. Mead says back then he took his photography to "a reasonably high level," but large-format film soon became prohibitively expensive on a student's budget. And "life kind of intervened in good ways."
Indeed, in 1977 Mead was named a Harvard scholar to Cambridge University. It was his first time abroad, and, enchanted by England, he vowed to return. He graduated from Harvard in 1979 and earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1982, then joined First Boston Corp. in New York to work in M&A and corporate finance. He left for Goldman in 1986, and in 1988, moved to London to help the firm build a European presence. When Goldman went public in 1999, Mead was one of only 221 partners who controlled the firm.
One of Mead's biggest clients at Goldman was Vodafone Group plc. In 1999 Mead helped the telecom engineer its $65 billion cash-and-stock acquisition of San Francisco-based AirTouch Communications Inc. -- a deal that he says gave Vodafone the platform it needed to snap up Mannesman the following year. In 2002 Mead and two other Goldman bankers became tabloid fodder when they fell victim to a theft by secretary Joyti De-Laurey, who was convicted in 2004 of stealing more than £4 million ($7.2 million) from her bosses and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Mead left Goldman Sachs in 2003. He continued to provide strategic advisory services to early-stage businesses on a part-time basis, requesting that clients pay in donations to their chosen charities. But he did not jump back into photography right away. "It took me a couple of years to get the perspective that I needed," he says.
In the meantime, in 2006 Mead joined British private equity firm Apax Partners Worldwide LLP as a senior adviser and chairman of the technology and communications advisory board. He left in 2008 to launch a merchant bank, Richmond Park Partners LLP, with an "old tennis buddy from 25 years ago," Andrew Pisker, the former CEO of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, and Werner Grub, a former global head of risk policy and process at Dresdner Bank AG. At Richmond, Mead provides "senior support and strategic advice" to M&A clients on a part-time basis.
But he never forgot photography. Thanks to his seat on the Tate Foundation's executive committee, Mead had the opportunity to interact with photographers who helped him weigh a return to the craft. He finally took the plunge in 2009, thanks to goading from his now 22-year-old daughter, Amanda, a student at Britain's Courtauld Institute of Art.
At Amanda's urging, Mead unearthed negatives and prints that had been stored in the attic of his London home, untouched for 25 years. He carefully compiled a portfolio of his old photographs and spent a year cold-calling and seeking introductions to gallery owners. Finally, Hamiltons Gallery -- which represented photographers such as Herb Ritts and Irving Penn -- agreed to exhibit his photographic work.
Today Mead regularly combines his photography with his other passion -- philanthropy. Last year, he donated a new photo, "Three Barns," to an auction at the Reuters building on London's Canary Wharf to raise money for PhotoVoice, a U.K. nonprofit that provides resources to aspiring photographers in war-torn and economically disadvantaged countries. He plans to donate another work to this year's auction, set for November at La Galleria Pall Mall. He supports various other nonprofits through the Mead Family Foundation, established in 1996, and is a founding investor in London's Notting Hill Preparatory School. And Mead continues to raise money for Great Ormond Street, including through running marathons -- an endeavor he took up after his 50th birthday when his five children presented him with an iPod, complete with a downloaded playlist of music to run by.
Having already completed the London and New York runs, Mead is now setting his sights on running a marathon on every continent, with plans to compete in the Antarctic Ice Marathon in February 2012, China's Great Wall Marathon in May and Australia's Sydney Marathon in September. Mead's days of billion-dollar deals are long gone, but he credits that experience to his ability to tackle his newest pursuits. "The intensity and focus are as critical to art as they are to investment banking," he says. And while his most recent accomplishments won't grab headlines like Vodafone did, for Mead, they are just as challenging, and a lot more personal.