A tribute to John Shuttleworth April 18th 2005 St Giles Cripplegate

John Shuttleworth and I were direct contemporaries at Oxford in the mid-1970s, but our paths didn’t cross – we were at different colleges and reading different subjects. 

We first met at the beginning of 2000 when John was speaking at a Conference.  My first impression of John was that he seemed very large, which I put down to being on the podium. But as got down from the podium to meet people, including me, he seemed even larger.

I had a long meeting with John in the Autumn of 2001, shortly before Boots announced its pension move.  I spilled all the beans over coffee and biscuits in John’s office with the aim of making sure he knew all about things so he could reinforce the Boots announcement.  By that stage I was clear that John’s independence of thought and stature made him a crucial ally. 

John didn’t disappoint and wrote a brilliant piece, which was ready to go to the printers as soon as the news hit the press.  This was very important in those first early days. 

As many of you know John was a huge supporter of what Boots did and spent a lot of time talking to journalists, both initially and over the following months.  What you won’t know is that the day after the news was in the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times John phoned the Boots’ Finance Director, who was very nervous, to offer his support.  This was very important to me.

This is a real example of John’s generosity, which only comes from a great moral sense.  Over the last 5 years I met John, spoke to him or emailed him at least one a month, sometimes to ask a specific technical question, sometimes to ask for his advice or sometimes just to compare notes.

I didn’t always follow the advice,  but I always listened to what John had to say. I will miss being able to pick up the phone for his wise counsel.

John gave the impression of being detached, not in an aloof way, but in a self contained way.  He was not a great joiner of official bodies – he was not a Committee Man and anyway it would have blunted his influence. 

I don’t know how many of us read the piece on John by Norma Cohen in the Financial Times (not many people get an obituary in the FT), which especially commented on John’s writing.

John wrote like no one else in the pensions world and few people outside it.  I am not sure if the PwC bulletin can continue without him – everyone who read it knew it was the John Shuttleworth bulletin. He wore the breath of his understanding and erudition very lightly, with many historical, literary and philosophical references. I did, however, point out to him on one occasion that alluding to Hegel, Kant and Wittgenstein in the same piece was a bit much, even for him!

In February 2004 John did something which he had previously said he would never do, which is be interviewed by the Financial Times.  As well as talking about the virtues of inflation linked gilts, the importance of considering extreme if rare events, and investing through tracker funds he made sure that the article referred to his copy of Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.  The article concludes, rather disarmingly, that “I normally talk about literature at parties and deny what I do for a living.”

I commented to John that the accompanying Financial Times photograph made him look like a Methodist preacher.

There is a real community of pension enthusiasts, many here today, but I specifically want to mention Zvi Bodie and Jeremy Gold in the US, both of whom had the highest regard for John, with Zvi sharing a platform with him at a recent World Bank Conference in Washington.

Let me quote one of John’s comments on a round robin which had originated with Jeremy Gold and added to by Tim Gordon, Andrew Smith, Charles Cowing and Jon Exley which is typical

“This connects with a book on Freud that I've just finished.  Much of his theory is now accepted to be scientific hogwash.  So why has Freud been so influential and for so long?  Answers:  he wrote beautifully (elegant, accessible metaphors); he purported to explain the most intriguing aspects of our inner lives; and, of course, sex is always titillating to read about.  For my part, I think it's just intellectual laziness.”  
No one could possibly accuse John of intellectual laziness.

John and I did not spent much time talking about death, other than in the context of investment or longevity assumptions.

However, a couple of years ago I saw John shortly after spending the day in Oxford at the Commemoration for Christopher Hill, the historian who was Master of Balliol when I was there.  John being John, of course, knew of Christopher Hill and had read at least one of his books.  The current Master summed up Christopher Hill’s approach as “sceptical, tolerant and a bit bloody-minded”.  John and I agreed this was not a bad epitaph.  Can I repeat this today?  “John Shuttleworth – sceptical, tolerant and a bit bloody-minded.”  Not a bad epitaph.

John Ralfe

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