In the same year that Britain formally recognised the independence of the United States – 1783 – James Man founded a sugar brokerage in the City of London.
His name provides the M for the broking firm MF Global, which on Monday was poised to become the first US casualty of the eurozone debt crisis.
The troubled business was spun out of what was to become Man Group in 2007 – and while all ownership ties were severed by 2009 – the MF Global group can still trace its roots back to 18th-century London.
After setting up as a sugar broker, Man began to trade a range of commodities such as coffee and cocoa. By 1869, it was known as ED & F Man. It largely stuck to the business of storing and shipping commodities around the world until the 1980s when it expanded into broking financial products and set up its own fund management arm.
The focus soon shifted to the financial markets and in 2000 it spun off the ED & F commodities business to focus on financial broking, fund management and hedge funds. The name was changed to Man Group, which floated on the London stock market the following year and entered the FTSE 100 index of blue-chip stocks.
The financial broking arm, Man Financial, was not sold off until 2007 to enable the group to focus on its rapidly expanding hedge fund business.
Shortly after MF Global, as the broking group came to be known, was floated on the New York stock exchange, a wheat trading scandal forced the group to sell a $300m stake to the private equity investment firm JC Flowers, which still has a representative on the board.
The group operated under the slogan of relentless pursuit of market opportunity' and it is that relentless pursuit – through a risky foray into the European bond market – that has proved to be its undoing.
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