Ex-banker who’s given Suffolk 100k

Something strange here . . . Former banker donates a large chunk of his fortune – �100,000 – to help the needy in Suffolk. Not what we expect from a breed viewed as Public Enemy Number One. Steven Russell meets the man once dubbed Thomas Huge-Wallet and asks why he’s done it

THOMAS Hughes-Hallett simply doesn’t fit the popular stereotype of someone who spent more than 20 years in the City, where he was part of a group that started an investment bank from scratch and went on to make a fortune. He’s not only handing �100,000 to charitable causes in his adopted Suffolk but is happy to talk about it in the hope he encourages others to give what they can. All a bit . . . well, unBritish, isn’t it? Many philanthropists would rather skip down the street naked than shout about their generosity. Has he had qualms about poking his head above the parapet?

“Yes!” he grins. “It’s very counter-cultural. We don’t talk about giving in this country; we feel slightly embarrassed about it.

“They would in America. There’s a bit of me which is just being bloody-minded about it. I don’t mind you using those words. I think it’s time we celebrated giving – and talked about it openly, proudly, and tease our friends by saying ‘Yes, I’ve done it. I’ve given �55. Why don’t you do it too?’ Not naming and shaming people who aren’t, but saying ‘Yes, it’s OK to talk about it and be proud of it.’

“Because I’ve spent my whole life asking people for money – I have no friends left! – I’m less embarrassed about it perhaps than other people would be.”

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That’s because Tom said farewell to the world of banking about a decade ago, to become chief executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care.

His �100,000 gift is the largest single private donation received in The Suffolk Foundation’s five-year history. Is there a risk his employer will be feeling it should have had the money instead?

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“Well, if it is, it’s bad luck!” he laughs. “I’ve just walked across the desert for Marie Curie and raised something like �60,000, so they’ve got my pound of flesh as well!”

Each year Tom sets out to cover at least the cost of his salary through fund-raising challenges, such as riding a bike from Tallinn to St Petersburg.

He’s just back from a big fund-raising event in Jordan.

“We had a terrific turnout from Suffolk, actually.” Friend and Suffolk landowner Sir Edward Greenwell was among those crossing spectacular landscapes and unspoiled wilderness.

“Then there were three people from Suffolk on horseback. We had 30 walkers, 30 cyclists and 30 horseback riders. We hope to have raised about �400,000 from that.”

Meanwhile, Tom’s personal gift to Suffolk has rather happily attracted matched funding (a further �100k) through the Government’s Grassroots Endowment Challenge and has created a lasting fund to support charitable causes in the county.

It’s also meant the foundation being able to draw the maximum amount of available match-funding from the Cabinet Office.

That grin again. “I like telling the Chancellor of the Exchequer how I want him to spend the money I’m giving in tax!”

The Suffolk Foundation works with individuals and families, companies, local and national organisations and other bodies – in a nutshell, raising money that is then given to needy causes in the county.

A random glance at just one page of its annual report shows the breadth and depth of its reach.

There’s �22,500 from the Call Connection Fund, for instance, for the New Beginnings project, supporting the core costs of providing confidential support to children, young people and their families in dealing with the trauma of sexual abuse.

Then there’s �499 for Suffolk Befriending Scheme from the Cheffins Fund to buy a laptop for Haverhill day centre. It will be used to give IT training to adults with learning disabilities.

Perhaps one could say the strength of The Suffolk Foundation lies in its whole being greater than the sum of its parts – in that it gives impetus and a high profile to the needs of charity and to the notion of giving.

“Yes, I think that’s right,” says Tom. “It’s giving funders access to organisations they’d never have found before; and sort of carrying the burden of making difficult choices.” [As in where the money should go.]

How did his involvement come about?

“I come from a philanthropic family, if you like. My great-uncle founded a very significant charitable foundation called the Esm�e Fairbairn Foundation” – today it’s one of the largest independent grant-making bodies in the UK – “and all my life that has been in the background. It was never rammed down our throats but it has always been there: that giving was part of life.

“I had a career of some 25 years in the City, which was enjoyable and profitable for me personally. I’ve always been involved in charities . . .”

Let’s pause for a moment, as we need to paint in some key background detail.

Born in 1954, the son of a land agent father and a mother who was an academic – an expert on novelist Jane Austen – he studied Byzantine history at Oxford and then trained as a barrister.

His first case popped the dream, however. An 11-week incest trial resulted in a split jury and the ordering of a fresh hearing – something Tom couldn’t contemplate. So he quit.

The City welcomed him. There were five years at asset management company Schroders in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then the moment he and others started investment bank Enskilda Securities.

It did rather well during the heady days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the City crackled with the electricity of bids and deals. It was during this spell that Tom – CEO during his last couple of years with Enskilda – was dubbed Thomas Huge-Wallet.

He’s suggested the bank’s success was down largely to the team’s youthful and workaholic drive.

There was a price to pay: such as collapsing on the trading floor in Stockholm with what he feared was a heart attack. It turned out to be a huge panic attack most likely triggered by exhaustion.

After Enskilda was taken over by Scandinavia Bank, Tom became chief executive of SE Bank International and was then sought out by Robert Fleming Securities to run its equities business.

Ten years ago, Flemings’ sale marked a turning point. Back to Tom to resume his story:

“. . . I’ve always been involved in charities. I chaired the English Churches Housing Group, and (son) Arthur had a stammer and was treated at the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children. I think through that I got sucked into charity, actually, and I became its chairman, and was very proud of it.

“In 2000 I was 46 and my wife and I had a conversation about it. We involved the children, too, and we all agreed it was time Dad did what my wife described as a proper job. So I started working for a charity.”

He was actually offered two jobs at the same time: one at Marie Curie Cancer Care and the other heading Barclays’ private banking.

Is it true his sons, then aged about 12 and 16, wanted him to take the Barclays offer, while his wife and daughter were championing the charity?

“You’re absolutely correct about that. The boys wanted me to stay in banking; I think they were worried about ski-ing holidays. And they were right – they stopped!”

Tom knew, however, where his heart lay.

“By then I’d become passionate in believing that, if you were lucky enough to have a little money, you should give some away. If you have a lot, you should give more!

“Marie Curie has taught me that it’s very often those who have least that give most, and those who have most don’t always give!

“When I heard about this scheme of The Suffolk Foundation, about matched giving, it had real appeal.

“By then I’d set up a charitable foundation of which the children are trustees, together with me and Anne Wright, of (chartered accountants) Ensors in Ipswich. We looked at this and thought ‘This is fantastic. We can give to really small, exciting organisations.’

“We wanted to give in Suffolk; they’re organisations we’d never ourselves have found out about. We recognised that some of them will do better than others – that’s fine – and we remain involved; and the fund carries our name because I want to set an example, a little bit, that others should be doing this as well, I believe.

“As the economy weakens, who’s going to provide the safety net for the most vulnerable people in society? Who’s going to provide The Big Society? We haven’t heard a lot from the Government yet about how they’re going to fund it, so I think the assumption is that we the public will have to. But I think we should feel we want to, rather than being put upon.

“So that’s why we’ve given this money. I feel very privileged to be able to do it.

“To be honest, there’s not much new about The Big Society, is there? I remember my mum getting into her WRVS uniform, proudly – I suppose in the 1960s – so it’s nothing that new.”

The Hughes-Halletts actually split their total giving between local causes and areas of particular interest to them, such as work with prisons.

“My wife runs a charity too, so it’s quite competitive in our household!” Dress for Success helps disadvantaged women by giving career development support – along with a suit when they land a job interview and a second suit when they find work.

How are charities geared to deal with the much-heralded age of austerity?

“America is more high-profile in its generosity, but I think British society is probably the most generous in the world and I’m optimistic about the outlook for charities, long term. Short term, I’m really worried. “I think there is a risk of some belt-tightening, with all the cuts going on. The national press aren’t helping. I think the constant ‘Every household will be �7,000 poorer’, people are beginning to believe it. Indeed, it may be true. But I do believe the evidence of the last three years is that charitable giving is almost the last thing to be cut. There have been one or two very worrying surveys over the last month from the charity press, asking ‘Will you give less money next year?’ and people saying ‘Yeah.’ Which hasn’t happened before.

“Charitable giving has not fallen since the 1930s, though it has paused at times.

“If you look at Marie Curie, we were at �64m in 2000 in terms of revenue and this year we’ll probably be about �130/135m. For many of us it’s been a period of astonishing growth, which we just can’t afford to let go back. If giving to Marie Curie falls, the number of people we can care for in the community falls. No-one wins from that.

“There’s an urgent need to keep making it easy to give; to keep making it more fulfilling; and I acknowledge every gift.

“I’m slightly embarrassed at acknowledging the gift we’re making; I personally think �5 from someone on benefits is of far greater societal benefit than my gift, actually.

“There’s a danger, I think, in measuring absolute value. Marie Curie survives, really, on hundreds of thousands of gifts of . . . �20. This year we’ve done about �130m; only about �6m will come from corporates and major donors. The rest will come from the public at large.”

Tom is leading a group of people from the charitable sector that is talking to Downing Street about encouraging philanthropic giving. He was due back at Number 10 yesterday.

“Someone’s got to do it. The charitable sector can’t just sit and wait for things to get worse; it must make things better – which has always been its vibrancy.”

Does he sense willingness on the Government’s part to act?

“I hope so. This will be the second time they’ve seen me in a few weeks, which suggests ‘yes’.

“The Prime Minister, in a speech in Liverpool in July, committed to fostering philanthropy. I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence of that yet, and part of my job as chief executive of Marie Curie is to be a gentle thorn in the flesh and make sure some of these commitments happen – in the interest of, in my case, people who are dying.

“We’ll provide care, through our nursing service, to one in eight of all people who die of cancer in Suffolk this year, and half of the people who die at home. And we need to raise the best part of �400,000 to fund that.

“It’s quite a motivating factor.”

Web link: www.suffolkfoundation.org.uk

SUFFOLK started working its magic on the Hughes-Halletts when friend Sarah Greenwell – wife of landowner Sir Edward – invited Tom and wife Juliet to stay in the county.

“We loved it here and bought a house here,” says Tom. That was about 23 years ago.

Their cottage near Orford is set in about 20 acres and “mown” by a pet herd of Highland cattle that over the years have been given names: Janet, Flora, Dorcas, Princess Anne – “no reflection on Princess Anne, a lovely lady; it was chosen by my daughter!” – and Hercules, “whose hornspan is now wider than the gate”.

Life’s demands have obviously meant Tom moving between London and East Anglia, “but Suffolk’s my home”.

“My weekends are as sacred as I can possibly make them, so I spend quite a lot of time here. Suffolk’s very important to me; it’s where my children call home.”

What appeals?

“I love the big skies. I love the way you can walk in Suffolk the way you can’t almost anywhere else: no endless signs saying ‘Keep out . . . don’t come.’ You’re encouraged to come, rather than discouraged. And I love the people. I just think it’s the nicest place – one of the great secrets of England!”

Tom is also a passionate supporter of the music programme at Snape Maltings, “and I think the Aldeburgh Literary Festival is one of the best things that has happened to Suffolk”.

The couple have three children. Arthur is a student at the University of Leeds, Grace “a struggling television producer!” and Archie a urologist at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

Their father is chairing a review for the Government on end-of-life care. The preliminary report is due next week.

Tom admits he and his doctor son have animated discussions about aspects of the health service, though he’s keeping the details quiet.

“He’s a passionate supporter of the NHS, as am I. I think the NHS is an organisation this country is so lucky to have.”

THE chance to ask a former top-end banker about the financial crisis is irresistible. Was there ever a time when Tom Hughes-Hallett felt the industry’s values were skewed?

“I think banks have always been interested in making money – that’s why they exist – but, personally, one of the reasons I left banking was I felt the interest in customers had drifted and banks were more interested in making money out of their own balance sheets. I wasn’t far wrong, I don’t think; but that’s easier to say with the benefit of hindsight.”

Tom doesn’t regret his time in the industry.

“I learned some skills, I made some money, and that’s been transferable, I hope, to the world of charities.”

So are we right to generally blame financial speculation for our predicament?

“Well, I think knocking bankers is good sport and people enjoy it. Are we right to blame bankers?” He breathes out and ponders. “Honestly? I don’t know. I can think of so many people I could blame.

“I do think the pressure on quoted companies to make as much money as possible, in the very, very short term, reminds me a bit of football managers, where now, unless you demonstrate a return in nine months, you’re out.

“How can any manager build a football team in nine months? It’s the same with banks; they were under pressure to use their balance sheets to achieve short-term performance. The really strong ones did less of that, and survived.”

Where did that pressure emanate? From across the Atlantic?

“I don’t know. Honestly. Shareholders, I think, at the end of the day, were demanding short-term returns. But I don’t know; and the great thing is I don’t have to care any longer, because I think I‘m worrying now about something that is far more important: what are we going to do tonight about the 2,500 people we’ll be looking after in the community all over Britain?

“It makes you work quite hard.”

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