Obituary: Dr Kenneth Lyall, economist

Dr Ken Lyall. Picture: Contributed
Dr Ken Lyall. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 12 December, 1948, in Edinburgh. Died: 13 June, 2013 in Edinburgh, aged 64.

Dr Kenneth Lyall was an eminent economist who had the distinction of being appointed the first investment manager of the Edinburgh financial firm of Walter Scott & Partners. The company was founded in 1983 and quickly won a roster of blue chip clients. From the outset, the firm offered institutional investors a specialised knowledge and detailed research into global markets.

Dr Lyall was keen to identify companies capable of maintaining strong capital growth and return on capital employed.

Walter Scott operates from the prestigious address of Number One Charlotte Square in the capital and manages equity and mutual funds for international organisations.

It invests in the public equity and fixed income markets across the globe and has built up a strong following internationally for its balanced and prudent reading of markets.

Kenneth John Lyall attended George Watson’s College where he was both academically and athletically outstanding. He was vice-captain of the school in 1966/67 and in the 1st XV. He was in the athletic team and was an excellent golfer.

He won the Rhodesia Watsonian Prize in Geography, and the History Prize, presented by the treasurer of the Merchant Company of Edinburgh.

In 1971 he read economics and the history of economics at Edinburgh University. On graduating with his MA he joined the management consultant Arthur Andersen & Co, first in its London offices and then in Glasgow.

In 1977 he returned to Edinburgh and studied for his PhD in financial economics, which he completed in 1982. The following year he joined Walter Scott, which had just been set up by Dr Walter Scott, Ian Clark and Marilyn Harrison.

In 2007 Dr Scott resigned from the board and was succeeded by Dr Lyall. The business was sold for an estimated £300 million in 2006 to the US bank Mellon Financial.

There were unsubstantiated suggestions that Dr Scott was irritated by the further merger between Mellon and Bank of New York. Officially, he said: “I had reached the age of 60 and thought it was time for Ken [Lyall] to have a crack at being chairman.”

Under Dr Lyall’s stewardship Walter Scott continued to expand and maintained its commanding position as one of the most respected “financial boutiques” in equity management.

The funds under the firm’s management have continued to rise and are now thought to be over $30bn.

Profits last year rose by 25 per cent to £94m. Expert staff have been recruited and Dr Lyall was keen to pursue a policy of diversification, broadening the firm’s client base and reducing its dependence on the US-based pension funds.

The firm’s expertise in the global equity market has remained of the highest calibre and despite volatile market conditions Walter Scott has regularly beaten the recognised indices. The firm remains resolutely independent in its investment approach.

As chairman Dr Lyall was fair-minded and courteous. He was a man of much integrity and financial probity who ensured that clients’ opinions were heard at board level. His training in economics and detailed experience of worldwide financial markets ensured that the firm’s original investment principals were scrupulously upheld.

For eight years Dr Lyall was an active trustee of Edinburgh’s David Hume Institute and was much involved in its debates on public policy issues – especially those that affected the economy of Scotland.

He keenly supported both Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt Universities in fundraising activities and Scottish Women in Business. In 2007 Dr Lyall spoke at the opening of The School of Accounting & Finance at the University of Dundee, choosing as his subject “It’s the Customer, Stupid!”

Dr Lyall and his wife maintained a 950 hectare farm in the Borders – an area to which they became deeply attached – and another in Angus. Dr Lyall campaigned fervently on behalf of the farming and forestry communities in the areas.

He was devoted to the countryside and enjoyed hill-walking and skiing – especially cross-country skiing in Europe and America. He and his wife were supporters of the arts – especially opera.

Dr Lyall was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago. He faced the illness with the resolve and fortitude he had displayed throughout his career.

He married Professor Jane Bower (formerly Professor of Enterprise Management at Dundee University and vice-convener for the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland) in 1989. She survives him.