Businessman and financier
Born: 16 May, 1940, in Edinburgh.
Died: 12 October, 2008, in Edinburgh, aged 68.
HISTORY offers some poignant examples of men who passed away in the hour of their greatest triumph. One such was Ian Rushbrook. As managing director of Personal Assets Trust (Pat), Rushbrook had, over several years, become convinced that a major dislocation of world banking and finance was looming. As he said with astonishing prescience to Pat's July 2007 AGM (his lucid and searching expositions of the investment outlook were legendary): "Is the financial world sleepwalking into disaster? No. It's worse than that. It's walking into disaster, wide awake.
"The Federal Reserve, the US banking system, the US mortgage industry, the investment banks, the hedge and private equity funds, all know what's happening; yet they carry on regardless ... Credit, debt and liquidity have expanded to extraordinary levels and we are certain this expansion must reverse itself. And the catalyst for such a reversal won't be a butterfly fluttering its wings over Peking. It will be a vulture, glutted on subprime mortgages, falling from its perch on a skyscraper over Wall Street."
Rushbrook's warnings fell on deaf ears and sometimes earned him harsh criticism. Recent events have proved how right he was.
Ian was the son of Frank and Violet Rushbrook. His father, Dr Frank Rushbrook CBE, sometime firemaster of Lothian and Borders and a world expert on ship fires, survives him. Father and son co-operated this year with great pride in the erection of a much-deserved statue to James Braidwood, father of the British fire service, in Parliament Square, London.
Rushbrook's childhood was shadowed by tuberculosis, which caused him to spend his life between the ages of five and 11 in hospital. Perhaps this experience reinforced his fierce independence and his determination to live life to the full.
After East Ham Grammar School and the University of Edinburgh, where he obtained a first in physics while financing himself by playing poker, Rushbrook studied at Cranfield College of Aeronautics before an attempt to gain research sponsorship from Ivory & Sime, the asset management firm, unexpectedly turned into the offer of a job. Rushbrook enthusiastically accepted and found himself one of several eager young tigers during a remarkable period in the company's history under Eric Ivory and James Gammell.
In 1975, in difficult circumstances following a severe market crash, he took responsibility for the management of Atlantic Assets, an investment trust dedicated to achieving capital growth for private individuals. Before long, Atlantic and its daughter company, Independent Investment, were among the most successful trusts in the sector.
In 1990, Rushbrook took over the management of Pat, which, under the chairmanship, successively, of Dick Anderson and Bobby White, he ran as an investment trust expressly for private investors and dedicated, unusually, to protecting and then increasing (in that order) the value of shareholders' funds.
Over the 18 years in which he managed Pat, the company's funds grew from 5.5 million to the present 160 million. He overcame the problem of the discount to net asset value at which investment trusts typically sell by a determination, now enshrined in the company's articles of association, to eliminate it by vigorous and continuing share buybacks coupled to the issue of new shares if demand exceeded supply.
Critics forecast that this would cause the company to shrink significantly. Instead, the confidence the discount control policy gave to shareholders saw Pat's share capital increase fivefold.
Rushbrook was a Conservative, a libertarian and a passionate believer in free markets, correctly attributing the blame for the present crisis not to under-regulation but to official interference in the shape of the US Federal Reserve's irresponsible cheap money policy following the 9/11 bombings. He revered Margaret Thatcher and was proud to have acquired, for a personal donation of 100,000, one of her celebrated handbags in an auction in aid of the Breast Cancer Care charity. At the time he commented: "For over 20 years I have admired Lady Thatcher's willpower, drive and capability. What she did for Britain was phenomenal. She has never had anywhere near the level of credit she deserves." (It appealed to Rushbrook's ever-present sense of mischief that, in the same auction, Cherie Blair's handbag raised only the modest sum of 490.)
Rushbrook and his wife, Anne, were, as a result, invited to lunch with Sir Denis and Lady Thatcher at the House of Lords, which Sir Denis afterwards described as "the most enjoyable lunch he had ever had with a couple he didn't already know". Thereafter, the Rushbrooks and the Thatchers remained in contact and Ian and Anne were guests at Lady Thatcher's 80th birthday celebration in London.
A man of astonishing kindness and generosity (which he loved to conceal under a sometimes cynical exterior), a challenger and inspiring mentor of the young, a contrarian and intellectual iconoclast who revelled in debate yet whose Rolls Royce (or, as Rushbrook would prefer, Porsche) intellect was always tempered by a whimsical, teasing and affectionate sense of humour, he had the good fortune to make a supremely happy marriage.
Anne was his true soulmate, as he was hers. His bedrock was his family life with Anne and their three children, and their joy was increased recently by the arrival of two grandchildren.
Rushbrook never doubted his own intellectual powers, but I'm not sure if he ever realised how wise and how loveable he was.