From 1998 until his retirement at the end of 2004 Claus Hansen was the managing director of PVJ, the pension fund for supervisors in the Danish metal industry. During that period he became famous in the Danish pensions world for consistently clocking up the highest results among the 34 pension funds monitored by the Danish life assurance and pensions association. His average return on investment during 1999-2003 was 7.9% while the average posted by the other 33 pension funds was 5.3%. As a result of Hansen’s performance plans to close PVJ have been postponed

1 What was your first fulltime job – and do you remember what you were paid at the time?
I began work in 1954, in the Danish brokerage business. I was engaged by Henriques Jr, Copenhagen’s biggest and oldest brokerage company in, established in 1801. I was a jobber but at that time you were involved in all sorts of areas, from customer relations, and we had all kinds of customers from children to the royal court, to acting as a messengers running around exchanging bonds and equities.
You never forget your first salary. I was paid DKR500 a month, the equivalent of e70.

2What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career wise and did you take it?
My old boss at Henriques, Carl-Otto Henriques, who was then in his 70s, used to ask: ‘Do you know why Rothschild became a billionaire?’ to which the answer was ‘because he sold too early’. Very often when the market is rising too rapidly nobody understands why. And then it’s time to sell and not wait to gain the last penny. It’s better to sell too early than too late.

3How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
In 1975, following a market liberalisation that allowed savings banks to move beyond taking deposits, I was headhunted by SDS Savings Bank to head its stock exchange department. Among its first customers were some pension funds and the first one I was in contact with was PVJ, the pension fund for supervisors in the Danish metal industry. When in 1989 SDS joined forces with Andelsenbanken and Privatbanken to form Unibank I was put in charge of institutional investors and as I knew the clients I’d brought over from SDS very well, maybe I took a little more care with them. So I had a very close relationship with PVJ from the early 1990s.
Then when I was retiring from Unibank in 1998, the PVJ chairman Paul Andersen asked me to become the pension fund’s managing director. PVJ, which was getting on for a century old and was closed for new members, had some problems that needed to be sorted out.
My plan had been to retire so he asked me to take the job on for a five-year period and the expectation was that then PVJ would close down. It was a small pension fund and as I knew it and its investment history since 1975 I agreed to take it on.
After we cleaned up some initial difficulties the results have been the best in the Danish pension fund sector. Each year all pension funds report their income, earnings and returns data to the Danish life assurance and pensions association Liv og Pension. My average for the past five years for which numbers are available topped the performance list. My average return on investment during 1999-2003 was 7.9% while the average posted by the other 33 pension funds was 5.3%.
As a result the pension fund is doing so well — with DKR2.5bn, around €350m, in assets — that the board has decided not to close it.
There are only some 1,500 pensioners left and their average age is 76. When we celebrated the pension fund’s centenary two years ago we gave our pensioners an extra month’s pension and now, as the performance has been even better, they get two months’ extra pension each year. Ironically when PVJ tried to get new members in the mid-1980s nobody wanted to join.

4What was the most satisfying achievement during your career – and why?
The PVJ performance over the past five years. I’m very proud of that.

5 And what was the worst moment in your career – and why?
It’s difficult to say but working on the stock exchange there will always be misjudgements of companies. But I don’t have many negative memories, it’s been 50 wonderful years.

6 How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
To me it looks as if most people become very specialised. Until 1980s we in Denmark could only invest in Danish bonds, we couldn’t deal abroad. But today there is a world of investment opportunities for pension funds. However, if
you are a specialist you don’t know about investing in property, you may not know about investing in hedge funds. Pensions are a long-term investment so you need to know
what could happen and what has
happened. For example, I have seen interest on Danish government bonds yielding 23.5% and inflation
up to 12%.

7 What would you do differently?
Not much, but it’s a pity that the stock market has changed and we had to do away with floor trading. Everything is on computers now. The old brokerage business was more pleasant because you were doing business face-to-face.

8 Do you have any unfilled ambitions? I’m lucky, I don’t. I have no regrets or anything like that. I’m looking forward to retirement.

9 Are you retiring or are you be recycling yourself into some new role?
After 50 years I’m finally retiring, I’m moving to
France, close to Nice. The weather in Denmark is nice in summer but terrible in the winter, it’s cold and wet, and that that’s not good for golfing.

10 Your words of wisdom for those in the pensions industry?
If you treat people well on your way up you don’t worry when you bump into them later because they will always treat you well.