An Old Friend Remembered

Jim Slater was undoubtedly the wiz kid of his generation.

The legendary British financier, who died last November at the age of eighty-six, had the knack of making money on the stock market like no one before or since.

He became known as a ruthless asset stripper, whereas his first love was stock-picking, an activity that remained with him long after his Slater Walker Investment vehicle came unstuck following the 1973 oil crisis, which in his own words left him ‘a minus millionaire’.

But his reputation for picking winners was so well established that he not only survived but his magic made him richer than ever before.

He was a man I grew to be very fond of. He gave me the chance to become who I am through his generosity of spirit and his financial backing.

Here is the story of our first encounter and what followed.

I had become a consultant for Slater Walker thanks to Jonathan Aitken recommending me to Jim Slater.

A trip to Kuwait with two young Slater Walker executives had led to an argument with them that only just avoided turning into an ugly scene. It meant that this trip was an abortive venture which had nothing positive to show at the end of it.

When I received a phone call later in London from Jim Slater’s personal secretary, inviting me to tea with him the next day, I expected the worst but felt neither anxious nor dispirited; it was just a question of confronting the inevitable.

As I waited outside the chief executive’s office I expected to be met by a personal assistant, but found it was Jim Slater himself who came to the door to ask whether I had eaten anything at lunch that had garlic in it before he would let me cross the threshold. It was only after he had been assured that my last meal was garlic-free that he welcomed me into his office.

It seemed the most bizarre preamble to any meeting I could remember but Jim set the conversation rolling by explaining that the smell of garlic was totally abhorrent to him. He was sorry he’d had to broach the subject, he said, but it practically made him sick and left him ill at ease.

With the issue of garlic out of the way, we settled down to a general chit-chat that had nothing to do with any inquest into the Kuwait fiasco. In fact the subject was never mentioned; instead he said how happy he was to hear that Jonathan Aitken and I were working so well together. He had high hopes that our team efforts would soon reap some good results.

As he struck this positive note in the conversation, he pressed a bell hidden beneath his desk. The company secretary duly obeyed the summons to appear and Jim asked him how much I was being paid annually for my services. When the secretary said it was five thousand pounds, Jim retorted that it should be double the amount. The secretary was sent away with instructions to mark the books accordingly.

I had come to see Jim Slater, convinced that my brief involvement with Slater Walker was at an end. On the contrary, my salary had doubled at a stroke and from that time on I would have personal access to Jim whenever it was necessary.

Most importantly, it turned out to be a major turning point in my career. He became the sort of godfather I never had.

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