RALPH VICKERS was the second generation of senior partners in the stockbrokers Vickers, da Costa. The firm was founded by his father, HC Vickers, in 1917. He had started work in the office of a Licensed Broker in 1895, shortly before his 13th birthday. He worked a 10-hour day, with two hours' further travel, and was paid eight shillings a week.
In due course HC Vickers joined a large firm dealing in the Mining Market. Much business was done in the option system of dealing and contangoes to build up the South African gold industry, and the London Stock Exchange grew considerably due to their activities. He became a partner in Nelke & Phillips, but in 1917 the Committee for General Purposes received objection to the election of certain members 'of enemy origin', and Mr Nelke was one of them. Thus HC Vickers joined his brother Reggie, DN da Costa and JH Millns and created a new firm. In those days they employed one man and a redheaded boy scout. By 1927, they were 55, and by the war about 70. Vickers was Winston Churchill's stockbroker.
Ralph Vickers had a difficult early life, losing his mother when he was nine and suffering badly from asthma. He went to Uppingham and then to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he steered a dextrous path, doing just enough work to avoid getting sent down, but not obtaining a degree. His early interest was motor-racing but realising there was no career in this he joined Vickers, da Costa in 1935.
During the war he left to serve in Europe, receiving a bad wound in the leg, and the Military Cross. Following the death of his father in 1944, he returned to the Stock Exchange. At that time he had a 10-per-cent stake in his father's firm, and he had to bide his time until some of the stodgy older partners gave up. He engineered a good deal of business during these years, and he became Senior Partner in 1961.
Perhaps Vickers's greatest achievement was the establishment of the Anglo-Nippon Fund, the first investment trust for Japanese securities in this country. There was considerable prejudice against the Japanese even in the early 1960s, so he was very much a forerunner in the Far Eastern markets. He used to say that only by having his money invested in Japan could he enjoy the life to which he accustomed himself in London. He said this sometimes led to rather too good a dinner, followed by indigestion and a nightmare, always the same - that he found himself living in Japan with his money invested in England.
He was proud that with offices in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Luxembourg, Monte Carlo and the Bahamas 'the sun never set on Vickers, da Costa'. At its zenith the firm employed 700 people. Unfortunately as the time for his retirement approached no natural successor emerged from within the firm. He appointed Sir Kenneth Berrill, the former head of the Think Tank, to succeed him in 1981, but within a short while events in the City changed considerably and Vickers, da Costa was swallowed up by Citicorp. Philosophically he considered what his father's reaction would have been and concluded that he would have preferred Vickers to be taking over Citicorp.
He loved to travel, to shoot, to fish and to play bridge. When he lived in Hampshire he happily dug ditches and dabbled in farming. He was generous to a fault. Recently I re-read the letters he wrote me, his son, at school, and every one was trying to inspire some enthusiasm, even in directions that did not appeal to him. When my first biography came out, of the nonagenarian Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough, he said: 'You can see why we were worried. Sitting in a lunatic asylum once a week seemed an odd way to earn a living.' He had been equally astonished after a day's canvassing for his sister Joan, the politician, in Plymouth. Returning from one of her more hostile wards, he asked her agent: 'Is that what she's been going through?'
He was a man of great enthusiasms. Recently he loved the book, Daughter of Persia, written by his sister-in-law Sattareh Farman Farmaian. Copies of this book he distributed with an energy surpassed only by the Gideon Society.
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