161. James Brooke Turner of the Nuffield Foundation – A Charitable Outlook – from the Ancient Greeks to A Plinth on Trafalgar Square

James Brooke Turner is Director of Yoke and Co and Investment Director of the Nuffield Foundation. He was voted one of the inaugural four Inspiring Leaders in the Voluntary Sector and writes about financial governance for charities. Our conversation starts with his study of art history, how he found that discipline and the perspective and insight it gave him for his ultimate career in finance.

We spend some time diving into the dynamics of investing as a charity, and differentiate it from managing a pension.  Whereas in the realm of pension fund investing the focus is on the future and liabilities, in the case of a charity the focus is on the past and on staying true to the historic mission. We talk about how that translates into an extremely long time horizon, which enables the group to have a strong equity focus and make extensive use of private assets.

Given James’s extensive involvement in different committees, I asked him what it takes to be a good chairman or board member.  He responded by referring to the ancient Greeks, where characteristics valued included things like curiosity, the ability to argue with each other and to disagree in a non confrontational way, the enjoyment of argument and discussion. Other traits included laughter because of its ability to diffuse situations and overall curiosity, respect, enthusiasm, and enjoyment.

We finish with a description of an incident that was a reminder of the basic good in people, and James describes a time he participated in an art installation at Trafalgar Square. Standing there, vulnerable, and on display, he realized that most people are good and wish for the success of others.

Series 5 is sponsored by Astarte Capital Partners, an asset management firm focused on sustainable real asset sectors, acting as anchor investor and partner to specialist emerging managers. Astarte is headquartered in London with a presence in Sydney and Toronto.