Spotlight on Tim Hodgson – Co-founder of the Thinking Ahead Institute

Tell me a little about yourself: I am male, pale and no longer young. I am also the beneficiary of significant privilege (see “what motivates you” below). I am married with three children, one of whom has Down syndrome. The children campaigned hard for 5 years for a dog. I was convinced I was not a ‘dog person’ but, it turns out, I am probably the biggest beneficiary of the change!

What has been the highlight of your career so far? I will start with (what I consider to be) a humorous anecdote – and then I will answer the question properly. I was once invited to present at an event heavy with top-flight academics alongside senior investment practitioners. I decided to let my money-weighted return hobby horse out for a gallop. It is about the time-average growth rate rather than the ensemble average growth rate – and essentially my presentation was an invitation to throw away mean-variance optimisation as it was not fit for purpose. If I had truly thought ahead, I would have reviewed the guest list and taken evasive action. At the end of the presentation, Harry Markowitz’s hand shot up. I had just attacked/dismissed his life’s work. He talked at length, and by the time he mentioned ‘the covariance matrix of the residuals’ I was in a blind panic – there was no way I was going to be able to answer his question. Thankfully he just needed to get things off his chest and ended up not asking a question. Apparently, the relief on my face was a picture to behold!
More seriously, I would say my career highlight so far has been working with the leadership teams of two separate investment organisations to reconsider their purpose. This drew on TAI work in 2018 on purpose and value creation, so it was great to see it put to practical use. I can’t go into details here, but the outcomes were a significant source of personal pride for me. And definitely a career highlight.

What is your favourite thing about working for TAI? The team nudges out quality engagement with members as my favourite – but it is close. I love my colleagues. They range from unparalleled experience to young and enthusiastic, but are committed to each other – and serving our membership as best they can. I am a better person, and my life is better, because of them.

What motivates you? Multiple things. I was brought up with a Protestant work ethic (assuming that is a real thing). I seem to have an intrinsic love of learning, and pursuing excellence. And over time, and through travelling to a number of very poor countries, I slowly came to realise how privileged I was. I could easily have been born in Madagascar, or a Delhi slum etc. But a seminal moment was my daughter’s open heart surgery when she was only 13 weeks old. For the 24 hours post-surgery she was kept alive in ICU by a 1-2-1 nurse who had 8 years of experience – and was paid less than the starting salary we paid to our graduate intake. That was the seed behind my interest in value and purpose. I found it interesting, during the Covid lockdown, to observe who the key workers were – who we depend on – and how we have historically paid and treated them…

Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life? Meryl Streep. Who wants to be boxed?

Where is your favourite place to go to unwind? The Antbear guesthouse, an ecolodge in the foothills of the Drakensburg mountains. We have been 4 times so far, and we never want to leave. 

What do you listen to when you need to relax? I am currently listening to a fair bit of Röyksopp, and have recently re-discovered Art of Noise (they have moved on, like me, from my university days!). After that, my choice for relaxing would mainly feature female vocalists like Billie Eilish, Diana Krall, Natalie Merchant – but Leonard Cohen might sneak in. And there would probably be some classical and some Irish folk music.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be? You don’t get to choose the cards you are dealt. You only get to choose how you react.