According to Jonathan Ruffer, he spent most of his twenties “being useless”.
The Cambridge graduate, who grew up in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, oscillated between jobs in law and the City without, he says, much success in either.
Then in his late twenties, Jonathan rediscovered a knack for investments. In 1994 he set up Ruffer Investment Management Ltd (known as Ruffer LLP since 2004). He explains: “Outperforming indices was as important as actually making money. This meant all of the important questions were put back onto the clients; it became their fault if they were up or down 20 points when the markets closed.”
Ruffer LLP took a different approach to investment that focused on preserving capital and producing consistent returns, taking the risk of timing an entry point into the market out of the client’s hands and back into its own. “If you find you haven’t lost money (over a given period), then almost by definition, you’ll find you’ve made it,” Jonathan adds.
Jonathan also wanted to provide a more personal service, so that clients were seen as people, not just as sets of numbers.
“It sounds cheesy but, because we are in a service industry, we see ourselves as servants; it is important to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and imagine how someone entrusting us with their money would want to be treated.”
According to Jonathan it was his “nice smile” and “absolute disgust of losing money” that encouraged people to invest in Ruffer. Their faith paid off, though, as his approach proved very successful.
Jonathan reflects: “If you’re successful in the City today, you can end up earning a lot of money but the conundrum is, what do you do with it? You can spend it but I happen to be mean as hell and I don’t have a very big personal expenditure. You can save it but I think this is the wrong thing to do. Or you can give it away. It’s not sacrificial or generous, it just seems to me to be the obvious alternative.”
The investment manager has since embarked on an extensive programme of philanthropy.
He was first inspired to pursue this in his thirties when he helped a good friend – a vicar who had been a successful banker – deliver charity work in London’s East End.
More recently though, he has focused on the relatively deprived North East town of Bishop Auckland. This began when the Church Commissioners announced they were selling 12 Zurbaráns, a set of religious paintings housed at Auckland Castle. Jonathan – himself an art lover – set about purchasing the seminal series so that they could remain in situ. He also eventually purchased Auckland Castle, too – with the aim of turning it into a visitor attraction. Having since relocated to Bishop Auckland, he now divides his time between London and County Durham.
Last year, his ambition to turn Bishop Auckland into a major tourist destination reached a new level when Eleven Arches – the charity he established alongside the Auckland Castle Trust – launched Kynren, an epic open air show set over seven and a half acres of land close to the castle.
The magnificent set with video projections, fireworks and music, forms the backdrop for hundreds of performers who depict 2000 years of British history.
The outdoor spectacle has returned this summer and is a longer and slicker production with more characters, including Boudicca, the Celtic Queen who led a rebellion against the Romans.
The show relies on around 1500 local volunteers – an essential element, as Jonathan explains: “Putting on a show that told England’s history really appealed to me but the real driver was to create something that brought the local community together.”
He continues: “We now have a community of almost 1500 volunteers who throw their hearts and souls into making the show the very best it can be.
“I don’t see Kynren as my show; it’s the volunteers’ show.”
Asked what he hopes his personal legacy will be in Bishop Auckland, he says matter-of-factly “I couldn’t care less, somebody asked me recently how I want to be remembered when I’m dead and I answered – ‘dead’. As far as I’m concerned, you can set things up and make sure they are viable over the long term. But it’s up to our future generations to do their own thing.”