On Dec. 26, 2004, Mark Weingard awoke to find gigantic waves rushing toward the bedroom of his beach house in Phuket, Thailand. Weingard raced to the roof, where he looked on as the Indian Ocean tsunami swallowed the contents of his home.
By the time the sea subsided, about a quarter of a million people were dead; many bodies were never recovered. Weingard, thankful that his home had been built on stilts (albeit for aesthetic rather than safety reasons), looked to the sky. “What do you want me to do now?” he remembers asking.
It wasn’t the first time the 46-year-old former derivatives trader had asked the question, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Spring issue.
When Weingard was just 10 years old, his father, a taxi driver in Manchester, England, was killed in a car crash nine days shy of his 36th birthday. Convinced that he, too, would die before turning 36, Weingard vowed to accomplish all that he could in the time he had left.
“We are only here once, and we have to make the most of life,” he says today. “Not only for ourselves but also for those around us.”
As a teenager, Weingard honed his leadership skills in the Jewish youth organization B’nai B’rith. At 19, he moved to London, where he eventually landed a job at Chemical Bank (which later became part of JPMorgan Chase & Co.). By 29, Weingard was a top trader; by 32, a multimillionaire.
Yet he remained restless. People who have worked with the blue-eyed Englishman describe him as ebullient, with boundless energy.
“He runs and runs and runs until his battery runs out; then he recharges and he’s off running again,” former colleague Stephen Bruce says. “It was difficult to keep up with him.”
In 1998, Weingard left banking for an Internet startup and later founded electronic brokerage Reset Pte. In September 2001, at the inauspicious age of 35, Weingard visited Manhattan to pitch his product to Fuji Capital Markets Corp.
Having worked all night to plow through a large number of trades, he called the firm’s office in the World Trade Center to say that he would be running late. The frantic voice on the other end of the line told him not to come -- a plane had just crashed into one of the towers. Weingard turned on the TV to discover that he, of all people, had narrowly escaped 9/11.
Shortly thereafter, Weingard threw a party to celebrate his 36th year. “I couldn’t believe I was alive,” he says.
Adding to his happiness was his fiancée, Annika Linden. The two had met via a London newspaper ad. Calling himself the “Knight of Passion,” Weingard placed a poem he had written seeking “a lifetime of love in faraway places where dreams come true.”
Linden replied with her own poem, titled “Knights of Passion, Days of Fun.” Weingard especially loved Linden’s practical jokes, often at his expense.
In October 2002, Linden was visiting Bali for a friend’s wedding when members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda-linked group, detonated three bombs, killing 202 people.
Weingard, unable to reach Linden from Bangkok, where they were based at the time, flew to Bali and searched the island for her, in vain.
As hopes faded, Weingard returned to his hotel, took a shower and sat down at a table when, suddenly, the door to his suite flew open. Curious, he ventured into the corridor wearing only a towel, only to have the door lock shut behind him. He says he thought then of Linden and her practical jokes and began to laugh.
“It was at that moment that I decided to set up a charitable foundation in her name,” he says. “I saw it as a message from her to go and do something positive to counter this negative act.”
That year, Weingard started the Annika Linden Foundation to assist the children of the bombing’s victims.
In the past decade, Weingard, Reset and other firms he has invested in together have donated more than $10 million. Renamed Inspirasia last year, the foundation has expanded to fund 16 education, health and rehabilitation projects across India, Indonesia and Thailand.
Today, Weingard has embarked on a new adventure: building a luxury resort on the site of his tsunami-ravaged house.
The 10-room Iniala, which opens later this year, will donate 10 percent of its room revenue (not profit) to charitable causes, an estimated windfall of $800,000 annually.
“I want to show that business can work hand in hand with philanthropy and inspire other people to do the same,” he says.
What’s more, Weingard plans to build several more hotels across Southeast Asia during the next decade, which he expects to generate about $10 million in annual giving.
“My life has been saved too many times not to believe in God,” says Weingard, who’s now based in Malta. “I know I have a duty to go out and help people.”
Despite the premature deaths of his father and fiancée and his own close calls, Weingard says he seldom dwells on the past, be it positive or negative.
“If your life is interesting, then you will have great moments and bad moments,” he says. “A life without events would surely be the biggest tragedy of all.”