National Mutual managing director Gavin Hill is a man with a slightly unusual passion. But it is difficult to hold this against him when you discover his interest has provided him with both a high-flying career and a 25-year marriage.
“I have always been greatly interested in mathematics – it is one of those things where you either are or you are not,” he confesses.
His degree in mathematics from Pembroke College, Cambridge, won him a job as an actuarial student at National Mutual in 1975. There he met his future wife Marion, who was also an actuarial student.
Now, at 48 years old, he has just overseen the takeover of NatMut by GE Capital in a deal worth£570m. He is clearly delighted after enduring months of window-shopping by the likes of Aegon, Winterthur and Canada Life.
Hill says none of the other suitors could match the deal laid down by the acquisitive GE, a company he firmly believes has the best interests of NatMut members at heart.
“This deal was absolutely the best for our members financially, which was our overall objective right from when we announced the decision to review our mutual status. None of the other interested groups were looking at it the same way.”
He says a happy by-product of the takeover is that NatMut's offices can remain in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, allowing the existing staff to be kept on. As Hill lives in Pirton, a village just four miles from Hitchin, he can be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief at this added bonus.
What is not yet clear is the role he will assume after the inevitable shake-up. Although NatMut will merge with GE Life over the coming months, Hill says job positions were not a matter for discussion during negotiations.
“I do not yet know my role. No decisions were made during the takeover and I have no idea what I will be doing. But as part of the ongoing process with GE, the various positions will become clear.”
Although he is resolutely tight-lipped about job titles, Hill is more forthcoming about the title of the merged company. He says it is possible but “highly unlikely” the GE tag will not appear in some form with the NatMut name. But he confirms both firms are keen to exploit GE's global brand strength.
He seems remarkably rel-axed about the possible loss of the company moniker considering he has worked for NatMut for more than a quarter of a century and presided over it for 13 years. But when luck has always been on your side, perhaps it is easy to be philosophical.
During Hill's stint as an actuarial student, his tutor happened to be NatMut's investment manager, who, impressed by his ability, persuaded Hill to join his department and become a fund manager.
H ill himself took on the role of investment manager a few years later before stepping up to become managing director in 1988. He has held the role for a long time but believes recent events have made this year the most turbulent.
“In 13 years the business has grown rapidly and taken in our move to becoming pension specialists. In that time, my role has changed with the business but the last six months have been the most demanding.”
Of some comfort to Hill may be that NatMut's new parent shares his views on stakeholder pensions, which he ruled out of the equation some time ago. Entering the stakeholder free-for-all was something that never appealed to him and he says GE is more than happy to turn its back on an “overpopulated marketplace which will not generate any decent returns for anyone”.
But it is the overall fit of the two companies which seems to most please everyone involved in the deal. Hill says: “GE looked at other firms but was excited by the fact that our product ranges complement each other's with no overlaps. That is a great position to be in.”
He says NatMut will benefit both from GE's reputation as an AAA-rated business and from its vast coffers which he believes will help with faster growth, making the business attractive for customers and IFAs, through which most of its pensions are sold.
Despite his enthusiasm, Hill concedes there is much work still to be done over the coming months. Members will have to be contacted for their assent to the deal but, following that, Hill will be off for a well earned break hiking in the Austrian Alps with his wife and two of his three daughters.
It sounds more like hard work than a relaxing holiday but this is a man who has run the last two London Marathons in less than three and a half hours. This year, he set his best time despite not having trained at all, shaving 15 minutes off his personal best.
The secret? “Well, I suffered from a slight dehydration problem last year. This time, I actually remembered to drink on the way round.”