BRIAN WALSH Chairman, Bankers Trust International PLC, London

Back in 1985, when all his colleagues were rushing to do mergers, Brian Walsh took a gamble on a then-fledgling sector of finance at Wood Gundy Inc. - advising clients how to better protect themselves against interest rate movements.

His chosen vocation, which has evolved into the hugely profitable swaps and derivatives business, has made the 38-year-old Mr. Walsh a fast-riser in a fast-growing field.

Five years ago, when he got into the business of interest-rate protection, he says, "People thought I was crazy." Mr. Walsh wasn't worried, though: "I was bored with traditional corporate finance, and this seemed new and intellectually interesting. Now, I feel it's one of the luckiest decisions I've ever made."

Indeed. In 1986, a year after making the switch at Wood Gundy, he joined Bankers Trust's small Canadian operation as vice president and head of capital markets. It was here that much of the initial research into swaps and derivatives was going on. Within 18 months he was promoted to president of the group.

He was promoted to the top job in Bankers Trust's derivatives and global capital markets, based in London, in 1990.

While the ranks of deal makers have thinned in the past five years, the cadre of derivatives professionals has skyrocketed as companies and investors rush to take advantage of the new financial opportunities they offer.

At Bankers Trust, for example, nearly 1,000 people work under Mr. Walsh, making his division among the largest in the bank. It is one of the biggest profit generators, too.

Mr. Walsh's career success hasn't come just from picking the right field. He has also put in the hard work, applied the brainpower, and had a bit of luck.

Two years ago, when Allen Wheat, the man who ran Bankers Trust's swaps and derivatives business, quit with more than 20 of his lieutenants to join First Boston Corp., Mr. Walsh was thrust into the top spot. At the time, he had been with the bank only about four years.

A few months lter, tensions in the Persian Gulf region created the perfect volatile trading environment for his staff.

Mr. Walsh, a Canadian and a graduate of that country's Queens College, concedes that the thought of running such a huge operation wad daunting at first.

But he seems to have settled in well, judging by the fact that revenues in his department are up 50% since he took over.

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