What was your first fulltime job - and do you remember what you were paid at the time?

My first job was as a pensions clerk at Legal & General; I worked at their Temple Court office in Queen Victoria Street, London. It was in 1963 and I was paid £450 (€670) per annum. I remember that my first pay cheque netted me about £35. I also remember not having enough money for my first monthly season ticket so I had to borrow it. I think I spent most of my first monthly pay, after repaying the season ticket loan, on beer in the Green Man pub in Queen Victoria Street.



What was the best piece
of advice that anyone gave you career wise and did you take it?

It was in 1978 when I was advised to consider leaving my previous job with a large printing company. It was suggested that the firm had financial troubles. I got out and went to my current job. It wasn't long before Robert Maxwell took over the printing company and the rest is history. When Maxwell became chairman of the trustees of the pension fund I transferred all my benefits to an insurance company - a good decision. Why others didn't do this is beyond me. Fortunately the insurance company I used demutualised so I got an extra payment, but with inflation over the years it has amounted to very little.


How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?

Some people may argue that I'm not a nice person. I have to say that pensions was never in my mind as a career. Because of difficulties I experienced in the 1960s I really drifted into pensions and found that it was OK but pensions were simple then - just the S379 Funds and S388 Schemes to contend with in the main. For one reason or another pensions has become a complex nightmare. Everything has to be gold plated and claims that the new tax regime introduce ‘simplicity' are just laughable. Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Gordon Brown is making retrospective adjustments to the new regime, so I suppose this will continue until the next wheelbarrow load of regulations. I do remember that the original IR12, the Inland Revenue practice notes under the old regime, was fairly thin.


What was the most satisfying achievement during your career - and why?

This is a difficult one but I really think it was when I realised after some considerable time that I was able to get on with all The Pensions Trust staff at all three sites - in London, Leeds and Edinburgh. I succeeded in reducing the barriers so that staff at all levels could approach me without worries. If you are to provide really good customer service in the service industry, management has to realise that staff is the biggest asset and that staff is a huge customer of management. By and large I think I achieved this. People don't seem to realise that in the service sector, management, staff and clients comprise a triangle. Management relates to staff and clients, staff relate to management and clients, and clients relate to management and staff. It is no use screaming abuse at staff along the lines of "you're useless - be nice to the ****** customers". If management is hard on staff, staff learns to be hard on customers.


And what was the worst moment in your career - and why?

The worst moment was a few years ago when our IT system failed to deliver, throwing our administration into chaos. It was a bad time and it was not possible to wave a magic wand to put it right. What I did find out was that despite the administration problems, our customers were very loyal, and this was in the main because our staff were able to deal with the issues on the basis of being really friendly and considerate to customers. I think many pension institutions should realise this. It's no good at all being arrogant when times are good - nemesis is always just around the corner when things go the other way.


How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?

I couldn't sell a career in pensions. Look at what has happened over the last 15 years or so. UK government initiatives since the mid-1980s have been about sinking the pensions industry. The industry is now shot to bits. My advice to anybody is to steer clear of pensions. It's all very depressing. One way or another, the pensions industry is in a sorry state. I wonder whether Gordon Brown, who has an index-linked DB plan paid for by the taxpayers, ever thinks about the damage he has done? I suspect not. Yet it was only in 1999 that Alistair Darling, then secretary of state for social security, came out with his pensions White Paper which proclaimed that occupational pension schemes were the welfare success of the 20th century.


What would you do differently?

I struggle with this. What would you do differently can be interpreted as what was your biggest 'cock up‘ and what would you do now to avoid this. What I think I would do differently (not a cock up) would be to have got the pensions industry to be much more pro-actively involved in managing investment manager fees, which in the main are verging on the obscene, particularly when the manager is performing poorly. I would opt for a formula of a basic fee of around 4.5 basis points with outperformance fees (measured over at least three years) to provide around 50 basis points (in total) for say benchmark +2.5% per annum. If the manager only gets benchmark or worse then the fee would be just 4 to 5 basis points. The philosophy is very simple - those who live by the sword die by the sword.


Do you have any unfilled ambitions?

Yes - to speak French much more fluently than I do and to be a much better pianist than I am, but unfortunately my fingers do feel their age. Another ambition is to get the government to see the sense of industry-wide schemes. The government appears to be hell bent on destroying them.


Are you retiring or are you be recycling yourself into some new role?

I am being recycled. For the next three years I will be doing some consultancy work for The Pensions Trust - approximately two days a week - and I plan to take on other consultancy work so that I can ease myself into the gloaming, so to speak.


Your words of wisdom for those in the pensions industry?

l Don't put everything into bonds.

l Beware of some of the flash and fancy names for new products - they tend to be old wine in new bottles and much more expensive.

l Give consultants a hard time - they are not always right.

l Always concentrate on providing a fantastic service to scheme members - after all they (and only they) pay our wages.