Thursday, April 13, 2006

Trinity House Retirement Party April 2006

With Ayako and Kei at the Trinity House Retirement party. Click the heading for some more retirement photos

Retirement is a strange thing. You find yourself voluntarily walking away from friends you've worked with for many years - in my case nearly 40 - and a business and an industry that you love.  It's an industry that's full of interesting and intelligent people – a few of whom are here tonight – and lives on a daily diet of fascinating news and events. Like the proverbial butterfly in the Amazon, much of what happens around the world has its effect in time here in EC3.  People come and go of course, and a number of my friends have already retired, but surprisingly few people ever leave the industry that we're in, and for some reason most of us, despite a peripatetic lifestyle and more entertaining than may be good for us, remain pretty healthy.  That being said, I'm mindful of the example of Dawson Miller who retired as senior partner of Millers in December 1970 and died in January 1971!

It's a truism, but our business is built on friendships and hard work.  I've long admired the story of the fox in Le Petit Prince. He meets the little prince and advises him how to make friends. There is more truth in that short passage than in thousands of so-called philosophical writings. Without the ingredient of friendship, business would be just business and for most people would be ultimately unsatisfying.  The great advantage of our world is that our friendships can extend to every continent and we can travel to cement them far more regularly than most people are ever able to do.  

It was Sir Joshua Reynolds who said, ‘If you have great talents, industry will improve them: if you have but moderate abilities, industry will supply their deficiency.’  I am certainly in the ‘moderate ability’ category, but I have been blessed with enough energy to remain industrious, even if that industriousness is sometimes somewhat misplaced As my long-suffering colleagues know, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time taking photographs – even tonight!.  But persistence and hard work are part of the same coin. You will remember an erudite American president – yes, they have had them – said that that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence: ‘Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men of talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated failures.’ Well, here in this room we have education, talent and occasionally genius, but I believe that the things that have brought us all here are hard work and persistence.

We have quite a crop of retirements this year, both in Millers and in the industry.  Millers are seeing the retirement of Stephen James and Francis Frost shortly after me - which is explicable by the fact that we all started in Millers on the same day, in October 1967 - or at least they did; for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained I turned up a day late.  Needless to say, they've bagged the window-side desks ever since. And we have just said goodbye to Tony Payne, with whom I worked happily alongside for ten years in ITIC - and later this year will see Hugh Wodehouse hanging up his debating socks.

Outside we are seeing the retirement of Chris Horrocks, Mans Jacobssen and Lloyd Watkins all of whom have had 1,000% more influence on our industry than I have, but show, on the ‘exception that proves the rule’ principle, what a vintage year this for decanting people. Incidentally one of my few claims to fame is that I was Lloyd’s immediate predecessor as Secretary of the International Group; a title that cut some ice in on my visits to places like Saudi Arabia with Francis Frost in the early 80s but as with most of our institutions, was many times easier to perform then than it has been in recent years.

As I move on from the City, I recall the retiree's prayer:  ‘God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway; the good fortune to run into the ones I do - and the eyesight to tell the difference’.  I’m not going to use that as an excuse to tell you about the people I never liked anyway, because I can honestly say that I can't think of a single person in my business life who falls into that category.  In any event, you risk offending those who might be expected to give you a decent lunch from time to time, to catch up on the gossip of which you were once the object.

Instead I am very much hoping that I will continue to run into the ones I do - which is all of you and many more besides.  Quite a number of you here have not just been friends, but have also enhanced my career by what I might call ‘flattering my performance’.  That will go for most of the lawyers, surveyors and other experts here whose experience and erudition has often got both me and the person that I was supposed to be advising out of a tight hole.  

Amongst those who have flattered my career are of course a number of my colleagues, several of them who have already passed into that amazing post-Miller state in which they look 20 years younger than they did before they retired.  I can't avoid mentioning two or three key people, although many more than that qualify.  First Bill Birch Reynardson, whose unwise invitation while shooting with my father to send young Herry up to Millers instead of to the bar was the luckiest break in my life, as well as his wonderful tutelage, both in matters of business and also in how to travel in style in places like Yugoslavia and India – not to mention Bahgdad, I have never forgotten.  The late Frank Ledwith, of course, who taught all of us who joined Miller's in the '60s, indoctrinating us in his year-long programme entitled ‘The Complete Mutual Insurance Man’ - I wish we still used it today. And Terence Coghlin, who I sat with when I first came up to Miller's from university. My attempts  to learn from him what he knew of P&I and Defence and about marvellous places like Japan, left his brain practically untouched.  David Martin-Clark too, was an immense help to me in many ways, particularly in the early days of the running of ITIC.  He was also my predecessor in Asia and left that ground well-tilled.  

Finally, I must mention my former secretary of over 20 years, Jo Johns, who I am glad to say has made it up here tonight from playing Widow Twankey in the panto at Cowes - although I am still well served by my current secretary, Pam Costello, who has organised this evening so excellently.  There is no denying that an exceptional secretary plays a key part in one's career.  Just to give you a flavour of Jo’s work ethic, (while keeping very quiet about her still more remarkable life and loves), she used to reach the office at 6 am every morning, and didn't leave until late in the evening.  The early mornings, she knew, were when I must reply to faxes from Japan, because the Japanese would expect to have an answer to the questions they sent the same day, before they themselves went home.  Nowadays, I suppose it's more efficient to bash out an e-mail oneself, but something is lost in the harmonious flow of work from the time when your secretary knew exactly what work you were doing.

Of course, ‘panta rei’ - everything changes - and we all need to move on.  I am becoming a grandfather in October and will be glad to have more time to give to the family, though whether my long-suffering wife Ayako will enjoy having a ‘wet leaf’ around after posting me missing for about half of every year remains to be seen.  However, being a grandfather reminds me of the lovely story of the little boy who goes up to his grandfather and says, "Grandad, can you make a noise like a frog?"  "Why do you ask?" says his grandfather.  The little boy replies, "Because mummy and daddy say that when you croak, we can get a new car."

And those of you who know me particularly well will know that I can’t make a speech without telling one of my favourite ‘bishop’ jokes. This one involves two bishops having a drink at the Atheneum. One of them was bemoaning the decline in modern morality and he said ‘But I never slept with my wife before I married her, did you?’ At which the other one looked up from his port and replied, ‘I really can’t remember old boy. What was her maiden name?’

And then there's my favourite story, and one that I'll leave you with.  It's a line from Johnny Carson who said, ‘I know a man who was determined to live a long life.  He gave up smoking, drinking, rich food and sex.  He was healthy right up until the time he killed himself!’  I'm determined to live a long life, and remain as happy as I have been amongst you all.  Thank you very much.

Herry Lawford
Trinity House, 13th April 2006