Julian Gibbs, veteran commentator, former leading broker and bon viveur is 70 next week, clocking up half a century in UK financial services in the process.
Gibbs has been with Money Marketing since its foundation in 1985. His mission was “to write about the good things”,a tradition that continues in his investment column today.
The young Gibbs was let loose in the City in the 1950s following National Service as an officer in the Green Jackets, including a year in Germany. He first worked for the family firm, Antony Gibbs, as an underwriter although he admits that as”as the third son of the second son of the fourth son, I was quite a small cog”.
One case insured was for a consignment of latrines bound for Ghana, which could often go missing and attracted an insurance rate of 25 per cent.
In 1950s London, young underwriters had to be in work half an hour before the directors and could only leave half an hour after the last director had left. The austere times – lunch expenses for juniors were unthinkable – were certainly a challenge for a man who when asked is he a bon viveur answers without pause “definitely”. But he rose to the challenge, getting an unpaid night job as a columnist for The Londoner magazine, covering horse racing, restaurants and theatre reviews and therefore dining out for free three times a week.
Gibbs transferred to Johannesburg, selling life and general insurance, and then on to Bulawayo where he developed sidelines in whisky, wine and lavatory brushes which he sold to the posher hotels and the British consulate, thus registering lavatory brush salesman on his CV.
Brushes aside, Gibbs, an old Etonian, comes from over-achieving stock. One uncle was chairman of NatWest, another the last Governor of Rhodesia while a cousin was a field marshal. One brother is a director at Arsenal.
His father, a philanthropist, was the first chairman of the Nuffield Foundation and his mother was chief commissioner for the overseas Girl Guides with a tendency to bossiness. His father, Gibbs says, was “a kind, liberal man”, who was happy if the children were honest and did not rock the boat, at least not too much. The first Gibbs to make his mark financially was Julian’ great, great, great, great grandfather who made a fortune from guano, prompting the rhyme which he recites with glee, “Mister Gibbs made his dibbs from the turds of foreign birds” although he lost it all by 1815.
Business for Julian Gibbs, returning to England to head his own advisory arm of the family firm in 1959 was a little easier. He wryly remembers selling young people “whole-of-life without-profits contracts to look after your mother” paying 1 per cent annually which after three years could convert to with-profits at 2.5 per cent renewal, “terrifying” by today’ standards.
Things improved with Mark Weinberg popularising investment plans – not a hard sell with high tax rates. To add to these plans, Gibbs’ firm put pressure on the unit trust companies to raise their commission, with lobbying from a promising young fellow David Sachon, now at Threadneedle, winning the concession of a 1.75 marketing fee, leading to unit trusts being stocked on advisers’ shelves.
In the 1974 stockmarket crash, Gibbs found himself at the head of an advisory business confronted with people telling him that if they could not turn around the losses on their mother-in-law’ nest egg, then they might find themselves on the receiving end of a divorce petition. One morning, a former Tory Party chairman turned up without an appointment for an urgent talk about his finances.
Gibbs advises investors who are facing similar problems now to sit tight, his faith in equities unshaken.
In the 1970s, the family firm was not so confident and pulled out, despite Gibbs’ protestations that, as market-leader in investment sales, they could weather the storm, so he set up alone. His new firm, Julian Gibbs Associates, grew from one tax planner and one secretary to become one of the biggest investment advisers in the country. He sold to Reed Stenhouse in the 1980s, now known as Alexander Consulting, signing an undertaking not to set up a rival, a condition he is now grateful for. He began his new vocation of providing product and marketing advice while media work ranged from TV to Money Marketing.
Among his columns, he is most proud of the one praising Nigel Thomas’ UK growth fund early. He rues praising Aberdeen’ progressive growth unit trust and there is a real sense of bitterness from this eternal optimist about what investors were told. He is also less than impressed with the FSA, suggesting the lower ranks could not succeed anywhere else. Howard Davies’ failing is not understanding smaller IFAs while the Sandler report is “ridiculous”.
His heroes and villains list includes as heroes Margaret Thatcher (the first 10 years) but also Tony Blair, who has governed in difficult times. John Major is a villain for letting things get out of control. Industry heroes include Ken Davy, Jim Gaskin, Godfrey Jillings and Aifa director general Paul Smee “who has saved the day for IFAs”.
Gibbs has a rather refreshing attitude to life. He says he has drunk about two bottles of wine a day for the last 50 years – 36,000 bottles on his estimate, “enjoying nearly all of them”.
With one of the guffaws which punctuate his conversation, he sums up his remarkably agreeable 70 years saying: “I have had a great life, I haven’ made much money but I have enjoyed myself hugely.”
Lives: Notting Hill, London.
Born: November 26, 1932 at Essenden in Hertfordshire.
Education: Maidwell Hall, Northamptonshire; Eton College, Windsor.
Career: 1951-53 National Service, officer in the Green Jackets, 1953 joins Antony Gibbs until 1974, with the South African business from 1955 to 1959, moves back to England 1959 to head the life and pension arm which transforms into one of the first investment IFAs. 1974: sets up Julian Gibbs Associates which he sells in 1980 to Reed Stenhouse. Continues to advise on marketing and product development, 1985 to present Money Marketing columnist.
Career ambition: “To still keep an eye on things and to keep writing. I shall always keep an interest in financial services where I have made lots of friends and not too many enemies.”
Life ambition: “To live at least until I am 90 and to travel more, ideally to split the year between Cape Town, France and London.”
Likes: Food and drink, horse racing, theatre, travelling, great old medieval cities, Tuscany, Umbria, Amsterdam “for the right reasons – and the wrong ones”. Anthony Bolton, Nigel Thomas and many more fund managers.
Dislikes: Boring people, administration, compliance.
Peers say: “He is the oldest blond and the youngest sage in the industry. He is known by more people than anyone else I know.”
Car: “Renault Megane – rather boring car but it works.”