What was your first full-time job – and do you remember what you were paid at the time?
At a time and in an area of low employment I was fortunate to be selected as a trainee accountant in a local government finance department. The pay was a princely £300 (e450) pa. The fact that I did very well there is either cheering or depressing, depending on your view of accountants.
What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career wise and did you take it?
At a leaving party to celebrate a promotion a close colleague chose, instead of delivering the conventional complements on a job well done, to note that I was OK apart from displaying the usual accountants’ disease of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. At the time I knew it was a quote but failed to identify it as being Oscar Wilde on cynics. So I decided there and then to study for an arts degree. Among the lessons passed on by drama directors was the importance of casting, or staff selection. I am convinced staff selection is a manager’s most important task and, if done skilfully, can add great value to an organisation.
How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
It was part of the job. Local government treasurers have extremely wide-ranging responsibilities, including the management of large pension funds. But my move into full-time pensions work came after a strange coincidence. Participants on a management motivation course were asked to write down the top three jobs they would like. Within a few weeks I was offered my top choice – the Railpen FD post. If it were any other field I’d say that was spooky.
What was the most satisfying achievement during your career – and why?
I have the good fortune to have been associated with a number of developments and industry milestones. I was involved in the development of corporate governance and in 1992 I wrote the UK’s first pension fund corporate governance policy. I was also involved with the development of the first pension scheme operational risk policy, the Railways Pension Trustee Company being one of the first trustees to publish a risk statement along the lines set out by the Turnbull Report. But my most satisfying experience was helping to transform the British Rail pension scheme from that of a single employer into an industry-wide scheme for 200 employers. I found it so fulfilling both because of its scope – with just about everything having to be changed, including the replacement of the financial system and the introduction of new systems for new activities – and because we were able to improve the quality of the finance function to an industry leader.
And what was the worst moment in your career – and why?
The current closure of so many defined benefit schemes is dreadfully worrying. So much is being destroyed. A new generation of employees will be forced to work into their dotage or retire in poverty. Social historians will look back and wonder how we allowed one of Europe’s best-funded pension arrangements to wither.
How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
The secret of happiness, they say, is to find something you like doing and then get somebody to pay you to do it. I would repeat what a retiring investment manager once said to me: “I’m sad to go because my job makes a real difference to beneficiaries and employers alike; I’ve met some great people and tackled an ever-changing and always challenging range of problems. Oh, and the money’s not bad either.”
What would you do differently?
Whenever meeting continental and American pension fund managers I was constantly impressed by their professionalism and high standard of education. We need to learn from their approach and develop the UK’s industry standards. I would have liked to encourage and assist this.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
To visit the temple gardens of Japan, preferably in the spring. I have loved Japanese gardens since my parents took me to Compton Acres gardens in Dorset when I was a child. It is beautiful, but I would like to see the real things.
Are you really retiring or will you be recycling yourself into some new role?
‘Recycling’ makes me sound like a socially responsible investment. But yes, I will be helping Railpen until the end of the year. After that I have no firm plans but I would like to put my experience in the industry to good use.
Your parting words of wisdom for those you leave behind in pensions are?
Don’t blindly follow the herd or mindlessly follow fashion. Investment management practice is nowhere near to being an exact science, so always challenge underlying assumptions and fashions and constantly review what you are doing. And remember - the greatest inefficiencies come from those who want a quiet life.