Obituary: Sir Thomas Neilson Risk BL LLD FRSE, banker and lawyer
BORN: 13 September, 1922, in Glasgow. Died: 27 June, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 89
Sir Thomas Risk was a highly respected lawyer, banker and patron of the arts whose business acumen and personal commitment proved a huge asset to the Edinburgh Festival, helping to secure its long-term financial success.
A major figure in Scottish life for half a century, he was governor of the Bank of Scotland and the British Linen Bank and a partner in Maclay Murray & Spens solicitors for more than 30 years.
But his expertise was sought far beyond the boardroom. His love of the arts saw him appointed chairman of the Edinburgh International Festival Endowment Fund, honorary president of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre and a trustee of the Hamilton Bequest, a fund financing the purchase of paintings for art galleries in his native Glasgow.
The son and grandson of lawyers, Sir Thomas was educated at Kelvinside Academy, Glasgow where he was captain of school, dux and an accomplished athlete. A member of the 1st XV rugby and 1st XI cricket, he won the mile and half-mile runs.
He left school in 1940 and would eventually follow his family into the legal profession after serving with the RAF during the Second World War.
Still only in his teens when he began training to become a pilot, he later took to the cockpit as a flight lieutenant in Catalina and Sunderland flying boats as part of RAF Coastal Command and, from 1942, was based mainly in India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Australia.
In 1945 he met his future wife, Suzanne Eiloart, initially in India and then again in Ceylon. She was in the women’s auxiliary air force and they remained friends after the war and married in September 1949.
By that time Sir Thomas, who had been demobbed in 1946 but remained in the RAF volunteer reserve, had gained his law degree at Glasgow University while serving his apprenticeship at Maclay Murray & Spens, where his father, Ralph Risk, at one time president of the Law Society of Scotland, was a senior partner.
Sir Thomas also became a partner with the firm, from 1950-81, and was heavily involved in shipping, commercial and family law. He went on to work for a wide range of companies and undertook significant legal work for clients, including Standard Life and the energy firms Chevron and Shell UK.
He was a director of the Bank of Scotland for several years in the 1970s before becoming deputy governor in 1977. Four years later he was appointed governor, an office he held for ten years.
During his tenure, a time when Scottish banks became internationally important as the country’s offshore energy industry boomed, he presided over a period that saw the bank enjoy seven consecutive years of record profits between 1984 and 1990.
He also introduced some major organisational changes, including, in 1981, the formation of a wholly executive management board. Made up of members of the senior executive and chaired by the treasurer, the board was responsible for the day-to-day running and future planning of the bank business.
In life as in business, integrity was his guiding principle. Highly regarded by customers and staff, he was a man of wise counsel and a strong advocate of the need for corporate governance and the independent role of the chairman and non-executive directors. He regularly visited branches of the bank throughout the country to show support and see for himself how the bank was run and regarded. And he insisted on being the first full-time governor, a role that had previously been a part-time appointment.
It was during his time in office, in 1985, that Bank of Scotland launched its revolutionary HOBS (Home and Office Banking Service) system – the UK’s first electronic home banking service.
The following year, after one of the most savage takeover battles seen in the City, he had been due to become chairman of the combined Guinness and Distillers group. However, the promised post failed to materialise as Guinness’s now-disgraced chief executive, Ernest Saunders, apparently reneged on the deal and claimed the job for himself. The incident became known as the Thomas Risk Affair and Saunders was later imprisoned for conspiracy to drive up the Guinness share price, theft and false accounting.
That same year, having been a leading figure in the founding of Scottish Financial Enterprise, a body set up to promote the qualities, value and independence of Scotland’s financial services sector, Sir Thomas became its chairman, serving until 1989. From then until 1997 he chaired the Edinburgh International Festival Endowment Fund. It was set up to raise funds from artistic organisations, institutions and individuals worldwide and by the time his appointment was announced had already secured £500,000.
Festival director, Jonathan Mills said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Sir Tom, who was a great friend and loyal supporter of the Festival. It is heartening to know that his tireless work with the Edinburgh International Festival Endowment Fund and his own charitable contributions to the work of the Festival stand as a lasting legacy.”
Throughout his career his expertise filtered through many strata of Scottish life: he was chairman of Standard Life and the University of Glasgow Trust and a director of Shell UK, The Merchants Trust, the Bank of Wales, the Howden Group and Barclays Bank. An avid art lover, he particularly admired the work of Scottish artists, including John Bellany and Peter Howson, and actively supported the late David Donaldson, his wife Marysia and John Byrne.
A man of immense energy and restless curiosity, he remained active throughout his life, playing golf and tennis, swimming, skiing and travelling extensively. A thoughtful, kind and wise family man, who suffered the loss of one of his four sons, Michael, in 1989, he was devoted to and drew great strength from his wife, Suzanne, whom he helped to nurse in her last months.
He died just a day short of the first anniversary of her death and is survived by their sons Keith, Timothy and Colin, six grandchildren, his sister Shirley and brother Ralph.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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