Sir Julian Hodge

Adroit businessman and strategic philanthropist
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The Independent Online

In a foreword to Timothy O'Sullivan's Julian Hodge: a biography (1981), the then Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, suggested that from "time to time, in politics, industry, commerce, and finance, history throws up individuals who tower over their fellows . . . Sir Julian Hodge, measured by any standard, is one of those exceptional persons."

Julian Stephen Alfred Hodge, businessman and philanthropist: born London 15 October 1904; managing director, Hodge Group 1963-75, executive chairman 1975-78; Treasurer, University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology 1968-76, President 1981-85; Kt 1970; founder and chairman, Commercial Bank of Wales (from 1981 the Bank of Wales) 1972-85; chairman, Avana Group 1973-81; chairman, Bank of Wales (Jersey) 1974-87; chairman, Carlyle Trust (Jersey) 1977-2004; chairman, St Aubins Investment Co 1986-2004; married 1951 Moira Thomas (two sons, one daughter); died St Aubin, Jersey 18 July 2004.

In a foreword to Timothy O'Sullivan's Julian Hodge: a biography (1981), the then Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, suggested that

from time to time, in politics, industry, commerce, and finance, history throws up individuals who tower over their fellows . . . Sir Julian Hodge, measured by any standard, is one of those exceptional persons.

In the last 20 odd years since this was written Hodge's greatness has in many ways been strongly re-emphasised.

His achievements would have singled him out in any context. However, against the 20th-century historical backdrop of South Wales they are all the more conspicuous.

Many would regard Julian Hodge as one of the greatest Welshmen of the 20th century. But he was neither born nor did he die in Wales. He was born in London in 1904, the son of a plumber. Some five years later, searching for sufficient employment to maintain the family, his parents moved to Wales, where after a number of moves they settled in Pontllanfraith in the South Wales valleys. Here Julian was brought up in relatively poor circumstances as a staunch Roman Catholic in a puritanical community dominated politically by the newly emergent Labour Party.

Perhaps much of what was to happen later can be explained by this particular context. Hodge was to be a lifelong Catholic and Labour Party supporter but in a way an exemplar of puritan ideals. He was also a great family man. A person who, despite his own success, was a champion and friend of "the little man".

This was evidenced in the 1950s and 1960s in his championing of the interests of the small investor and perhaps even more evident in the latter part of his life with his philanthropic support of homes for the elderly and a hospice for dying children.

Julian Hodge left school at the age of 13 and his first real job was in a chemist's shop run by a distant relation in London. He then returned to Pontllanfraith and took up a job as a clerk with the Great Western Railway. This led him into accounting and he qualified by means of evening classes at Cardiff Technical College as a Certified and Corporate Accountant in 1930.

From this point on his career developed into business interests and then into a business empire, as he moved adroitly between a variety of ventures. The South Wales economy, meanwhile, experienced increasing problems, with the effects of long-term decline in coal and steel and ports.

In some ways Hodge's activities and progress could be seen at the time and were sometimes criticised by the media as the activities of an opportunistic entrepreneur. Taking account of what was happening generally in the South Wales economy and with the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see that his many and complex moves were, at least in the most part, part of a well-thought-through strategy.

Over his career there was scarcely an area of economic activity in which he was not involved - from cinemas to motor cars, from banks to shops. His influence on the businesses in South Wales to the present day has been considerable. His success and the development of his business empire ameliorated some of the local decline and were a strategic element in the revival of the Welsh economy in the latter part of the 20th century.

Of particular symbolic significance was his development and creation in 1972 of the Commercial Bank of Wales, later known as the Bank of Wales. Although this organisation has subsequently been taken over by the Bank of Scotland and merged into the Halifax Bank of Scotland Group it was of enormous importance in indicating the potential for revival in economic terms of South Wales, even allowing the unstoppable decline of coal and steel in the Principality.

In latter years Hodge inevitably had less influence on his business interests but even up to his death at the age of 99 he always appeared to be adept in business dealings and a man of incredible energy.

Having made a great deal of money, Sir Julian Hodge (he was knighted in 1970) became a significant philanthropist. In many ways, his giving was characterised by the same skills and determination as the development of his businesses. He gave tens of millions to charitable causes that might have founded without his support.

Hodge was never a casual distributor of largesse, rather he was a strategic visionary striving to achieve things he regarded as worthwhile. Two of his numerous contributions are worthy of consideration in this context. First, he gave large sums of money and moral support to the development of the Ty Hafen Children's Hospice, which opened in 1999 on the banks of the Bristol Channel at Sully, outside Barry to the south-west of Cardiff.

This organisation carries out a vital function for dying children and their families and could not possibly have developed in the way it has without his long-term support.

His support, both in money and other ways, of the development of Cardiff Business School is also indicative of his strategic vision and the coming together of his many interests in life. In the early Seventies he donated the money to Uwist (his Alma Mater under its new name, the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, of which he was Treasurer) to create two Chairs in Banking and Finance and in Accounting.

Since that time his financial and moral support for what was to become, formally in 1987, Cardiff Business School (from 1988 part of Cardiff University, with the conjunction of Uwist and University College, Cardiff) has been very considerable and strategically significant. His vision and support were a vital element in creating the Cardiff Business School of today, nominated as Business School of the Year in both of the last two years by Business Britain magazine.

Julian Hodge made an indelible mark upon Welsh history based upon his vision, generosity of spirit, incredible hours of work and, perhaps most of all, the simple fact that he cared; and when others got tired, disillusioned or simply grew old he went on caring.

Roger Mansfield