Obituary: Jocelyn Hambro
Friday 24 June 1994
JOCELYN HAMBRO was the last in a line of merchant bankers who exemplified the qualities and values of the City of London before deregulation in the 1980s. He was also the last of his family to have personal control of the family bank Hambros, based in Bishopsgate. When Jocelyn Hambro and his three sons left Hambros Bank in 1986, it marked the end of a 200-year dynasty and the start of the successful financial house J. O. Hambro Ltd, which Jocelyn Hambro set up in Queen Anne's Gate, Westminster.
Jocelyn Hambro was a diverse man and an adventurous and eclectic banker. He told me in 1992, when we were working together on his biography, JOH: 'I was never a true banker. I never managed to get interested in it, until there was a problem with a loan, and then one had to.' But his kind of merchant banking was based on choosing people and projects rather than following splits and margins. 'Merchant bankers,' he said, 'aren't supposed to be conventional bankers; merchant bankers are supposed to be risk takers, as opposed to joint stock (clearing) bankers who never take a risk but still manage to lose money.' He was a fine judge of character and concealed his strong likes and dislikes with perfect
The Hambro family came from Scandinavia. The name is probably a misspelling of Hamburg which became Hembroe. They prospered greatly as merchants in the 18th century. Then Jocelyn Hambro's grandfather, Carl Joachim Hambro, established the family bank in London in the 1830s. In turn, Olaf Hambro, Jocelyn's father, was chairman of the bank from 1932 to 1960, and brought Jocelyn up to join the family business.
Jocelyn Hambro was born in 1919 in Upper Brook Street, London. His mother, Winifred Martin-Smith, was also from banking stock. The family lived in London and at Kidbrooke Park, Sussex, and Glendoe, Loch Ness. In 1932 Winifred drowned in a boating accident on Loch Ness: the launch caught fire after an engine explosion; Her body was never recovered. But the tragedy brought Jocelyn and his father closer together. After Eton, where he became the school bookmaker, and Heidelberg, where he studied languages, Jocelyn went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1937. From Cambridge, he often went racing at Newmarket, a lifelong passion; and he made many friendships in the racing and shooting crowd at Cambridge.
But in 1938, with war looming, he joined the Supplementary Reserve of the Coldstream Guards. The Guards Armoured Division landed on Juno beach in 1944, and in the subsequent action, Major Jocelyn Hambro of No 1 Squadron was awarded the Military Cross. But he was severely wounded by a British AA shell which exploded amongst a tactical group meeting on 12 August - 'it must have been open season on me', he recalled - and surgeons had to amputate his left leg. He was unsentimental and modest about his service: 'I just wanted to forget all about it.' He had married in 1942, Silvia Muir, and quickly resumed civilian life.
He joined Hambros in 1945, and sailed for the United States immediately with dollars 10,000 to establish a trading company to earn exports for the UK. He established franchises for MG cars and the British Motor Corporation which grew to have cumulative sales of pounds 90m by 1960. But he also presided over some disasters at the Hambro House of Design on 57th Street, New York, including honey which exploded and kippers which rotted in the heat. He became a director of Hambros Bank in 1947. He was chairman from 1965 to 1972, then chairman and president of Hambros Plc until 1986.
He was an aggressive and diverse banker. He introduced Eurodollar bonds in January 1963 and oversaw an enormous expansion in the Eurobond market throughout the 1960s. Hambros European connections were crucial; apart from the bank's strength in Scandinavia, it made the first 'offerta publica' in Italy and formed the first consortium bank in London.
But Jocelyn Hambro's greatest success was the formation of Hambro Life, a unit-based life assurance company, in 1970. He collaborated with Mark Weinberg and his team from Abbey Life to make a company which grew from pounds 1m assets in 1970 to pounds 335m in 1975. The bank's share was sold off later to cover losses in shipping loans after the oil crisis of the early 1970s; the Hambro Life investment probably saved the bank. Hambro was also involved in diamond broking, bullion dealing, mining and insurance. He used the bank as a vehicle for direct investment, and established many investment and unit trusts in the 1970s.
Jocelyn Hambro enjoyed his work for four charities, giving his time freely over many years. He was trustee and chairman of Henry Smith's charity, one of London's oldest, founded in 1620. He was a governor of the Peabody Trust, which provides low-cost housing in London. He was treasurer and chairman of the British Limbless Ex-servicemen's Association, campaigning for funds and new technology. But it was to the cancer charities that he gave special attention. His first wife, Silvia, and his second wife, Elisabeth (for 25 years chairman of the Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund), had both died of cancer. In aid of the cancer charities, Jocelyn and Elisabeth Hambro established the Joint British Cancer Charities J. O. Hambro Award for the Businessman of the Year which benefits Cancer Research, Imperial Cancer Research, Marie Curie Cancer Care and the Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund. The family remains involved in the Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund through the chairmanship of Jocelyn's son Richard Hambro. He leaves his third wife, Margaret, and three sons - Rupert, Richard and James - from his first
In his later years, Hambro devoted himself to breeding and racing horses from his stud in Gloucestershire; in May he was sure to be at Newmarket (he was member of the Jockey Club) for the opening of the Flat season. And in August he was sure to be grouse shooting in Scotland. At other times, he could be found on the golf course - his mother was a fine golfer and had started him at the sport when he was seven.
Jocelyn Hambro was born into one of the great British banking families, and while being a respecter of tradition, he was no slave to it. His life began in the era of the four-day weekend, the large house party, summers in Biarritz and autumns in Scotland. After retiring as chairman of Hambros Plc, he used to say he had entered the 'post-Bs' phase: 'Post-butlers, post-Bentleys, post-banks.'
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