Jim Slater obituary

From 1967 Jim Slater built a organization worth more than £200m, but it collapsed when the stock marketplace and house bubble burst in 1974. Photograph: ANL/Rex

Jim Slater, who has died aged 86, was so successful for a few years during the 1960s monetary bubble that he was nicknamed “the Master” by the financial press. His mastery lasted only as extended as the bubble remained inflated, nevertheless, and his swiftly built reputation plummeted just as quickly as it had grown. The man who came from nowhere to head a enormous economic empire narrowly escaped incarceration in a Singapore jail and was discovered guilty of UK Businesses Act offences.

Slater rose to prominence as head of Slater Walker, a property, banking and investment group founded with Peter Walker, who went on to turn into a senior member of Conservative governments in the 1970s and 80s and was ennobled in 1992.

Slater Walker was the arch-exponent in the 1960s of financially driven business deals. It spawned a network of satellites run by acolytes and associates, the most productive of whom was Lord (James) Hanson. But in 1974 the empire was brought down by the London house and “fringe” banking crash, which exposed the frailty of the wheeler-dealing at its heart.

Slater arrived in the City by way of a passion for share dealing, which began as a hobby. Born in Heswall, Cheshire, he was the son of a suburban London builder, Hubert Slater, and his wife, Jessica. His father died although Jim was quite young, leading him to leave Preston Manor county school, Wembley, at 16 and train to be an accountant. When he moved into sector in the early 1950s he did well, thanks to his analytical skills and a flair for promoting. He ended up in 1963 as deputy sales director at the Leyland Motor Corporation (which subsequently became part of British Leyland, and then the Rover Group) and was promised that he would make it to the top.

But, in the meantime, he had discovered the joy – and profit – in share dealing, a hobby he created although incapacitated with the debilitating effects of a virus. In the course of his enforced idleness he analysed share movements and decided he could spot shares that were undervalued. Producing some handsome earnings from early dealings, he started to advise close friends and colleagues as properly, and then to write a share-tipping column, aptly named Capitalist, for the Sunday Telegraph. The lure of running one particular of Britain’s most crisis-ridden companies quickly paled by contrast with a life of higher finance.

He met Peter Walker at a lunch for below-40s who had been tipped for the best, and in 1964 he left industry behind to turn into a financier. Slater was later exposed as capitalising on his newspaper column by tipping shares he owned and promoting them once their prices went up following his public recommendation. But at the time he seemed the quite model of the meritocratic businessman, out to shake up the sleepy establishment. And that is precisely what he did via a series of takeovers, which saw his influence spread from business to banking and insurance coverage.

He bought and sold firms the exact same way he purchased and sold shares. He was not interested in the operations of the firms that ranged from Solicitors’ Law Stationery to the talent agency Hemdale. He was interested only in the profit to be created from getting and promoting the companies and their assets.

This was the period when the term “asset stripping” was coined to describe his knack of acquiring an undervalued organization and selling its properties or other assets at a enormous profit. It was a practice frowned on in many circles, but it shot Slater Walker to the prime echelons of the company world. He always insisted there was nothing at all incorrect with asset stripping, because it resulted in assets becoming utilised a lot more effectively.

In the six years from 1967, Slater roared through the economic world, developing an empire that at its peak was worth a lot more than £200m, and that stood alongside some of Britain’s most eminent merchant banks.

It was an empire constructed on the sand of share dealing, nonetheless, and when the stock marketplace and house bubble burst, the empire was doomed. Slater had observed it coming, but possessing sold off his industrial company he was cruelly exposed due to the fact he had absolutely nothing of substance to fall back on.

Attempts to merge with a series of organizations, such as the merchant banks Warburg and Hill Samuel, came to nothing at all. The calamity was made worse by the Singapore authorities’ attempts to extradite him to face charges of financial irregularities.

In 1975 the edifice crumbled amid the economic crisis that almost engulfed the City. Slater escaped extradition, although he was identified guilty of minor Firms Act offences and went into a premature semi-retirement at the age of 47.

He continued dealing in house and shares, with the help of Lonrho’s Tiny Rowland, an additional maverick businessman. This swiftly reversed his status as a “minus-millionaire” – the term he coined to describe the extent of his debts. And he turned to writing. 1st came an autobiography, Return to Go (1977), in which he showed no remorse for losing a lot of people a lot of money and indulging in questionable company practices. He later said he was not especially proud of Slater Walker, due to the fact it failed, but certainly not ashamed of it.

Slater wrote a quick series of children’s books, but this was a temporary diversion from his first accurate enjoy – share dealing, which he declared he would continue with until the day he died. “It takes place to be what I do best,” he mentioned.

The two strands of writing and investing came together in his book The Zulu Principle (1992), which explained his methods to little-scale investors. He returned to newspaper share tipping, in the Independent, and he lent his name to a financial publisher’s series of reference books on British firms. He continued to create a column in the Everyday Telegraph the final a single, published a few days before his death, advised books on investment. He also continued to invest in a range of company ventures, as nicely as getting an active stock industry investor.

But for the most portion Slater stayed in the shadows, enjoying family life in Surrey – he married his former secretary, Helen Goodwyn, in 1965 and had two sons and two daughters – and a variety of pastimes such as salmon fishing, even though usually playing the stock marketplace.

He gave some of his wealth to enhance chess and tennis, and backed the charity Birthright (now Wellbeing of Females). But, in spite of his talent at public relations throughout his Slater Walker days, he was by no means the celebrity type, and mostly shunned publicity except when it suited him.

He is survived by Helen and his children.

James Derrick Slater, financier, born 13 March 1929 died 18 November 2015

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