Can’t stop, won’t stop

With a heroic past behind him, Jonathan Horsfall Turner says he is ready for retirement. But he is finding it hard to hang up his boots

For a man who is supposed to have retired four weeks ago, Jonathan Horsfall Turner is not doing very well at putting his feet up.

Having arrived at a deal with Allen & Overy (A&O) that he would stay on for three years as a consultant to see through certain pieces of work, former banking partner Horsfall Turner says that his retirement has so far made no appreciable difference to his life. Still, he does not seem too downhearted about it – Horsfall Turner is a big man with an even bigger laugh, in which he regularly indulges.

He says that he is absolutely determined that at the end of that three-year stint he really is going to retire. After all, he has four 17th century houses to look after, including a 1710 palladium villa in Lewisham designed by the architect to George II’s wife Queen Caroline. That one he reserves for parties, preferring to live in two neighbouring houses on Blackheath. Tough life, huh?

Retirement will be quite a change for the man partly credited with the creation of A&O’s Goliath banking department. Since joining the firm in 1967 as an articled clerk, he has spent the whole of his career there. Back when he started there were only 120 people at the firm – now there are 4,500 worldwide.

“The firm still has a strong community feeling,” says Horsfall Turner. “There’s a family spirit to it unlike some other firms.” He claims that this is because the continued success of the firm means that there is not a queue of people backbiting because they feel they are not being paid enough. The firm is run on a relatively benevolent basis. “There are slight touches on the tiller but people are allowed to plough their own furrow.”

Horsfall Turner has stayed at the firm because the banking and project finance market kept changing frequently enough to prevent him from becoming bored. “I have been doing banking since 1969, but in the early days it was very simple syndicated credits and very simple bond issues. From time to time there has been huge baskets of project finance work and from time to time securitisations and then huge amounts of restructuring,” he says. “At the end of the 1980s there was nothing much around in the way of new deals. But then I did the restructuring of News Corporation acting for News, with Michael Bray [of Clifford Chance] acting for the banks.”

Horsfall Turner says that job, which kept the media world on tenterhooks as they waited for the demise of Rupert Murdoch which never arrived, came completely out of the blue. “One Friday evening I was rung up by the financial officer of News International saying that they were going to default on the Monday because they hadn’t paid £260,000 to a bank,” he recalls. “I was saying that I was sure that the bank wouldn’t mind if he said it was going to be a day late when he said, ‘You don’t understand, we don’t have £260,000’. I was shell-shocked. After that I was working on it seven days a week and virtually 24 hours a day for several months.”

Following on from that, Horsfall Turner handled the Heron restructuring, which was the UK’s second largest private company at the time, and then the restructuring of airline leasing company GPA – three huge restructurings that took a total of three years to complete. Once they were all out of the way it was back on to new deals again and in particular a vogue for very complicated project finance deals.

As to his other professional highlights, Horsfall Turner was involved in the first floating rate bond issue in the UK – there had been just one done before in the US. During the 1970s he was also at the cutting edge of developing syndicated loan documentation.

An impressive record, not quite what Michael Aspel would be after with his infamous red book, but outstanding nonetheless.

For those of you who do not do banking work and glaze over when your colleagues start wittering on about the various ways of lending people money, here is a fact that even you (and me) can grasp. One of Horsfall Turner’s career highlights was back in the mid-1970s when he represented all of the UK clearing banks on what for many years remained the largest loan in the market. A huge $5bn (£3.6bn) was lent to the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury to shore up a UK economy that was in a parlous state.

Looking back at his career, Horsfall Turner says that he can remember only one week where he was slightly bored – it was in 1992 when, although the work was coming in, it did not seem to be of very good quality. The next week the Heron restructuring work came in and for the next two years he did not have a dull moment.

As for how Philip Wood, Bill Tudor John and himself built up the banking department from virtually nothing to the powerhouse it is today, Horsfall Turner modestly claims that events merely overtook the trio. “We would go for a signing for a syndicated loan and we used to come away from lunch with three more deals to do, and it just grew and grew. Banking has grown into such a huge market – I remember once in the late 1970s when somebody’s name came up for partnership the then senior partner said that it wouldn’t be right to make him partner as he only had real capability in banking and that was not considered enough. Now if someone had overall capability in banking you would think that was fantastic.”

One of the many other changes that he has seen in the market is the move towards beauty parades, which he believes do not always offer the best solution for clients when they are centred, as they often are, on cost. “The marketing phenomena just didn’t exist, people came to you and you’d have three or four really loyal clients. Whenever you were travelling the first thing you would do when you got back, as communications abroad were not as easy then, was to ring the client and apologise for being away, but if the client wanted help with anything you would be available on Saturday at your house.”

Horsfall Turner readily admits that his wife Yvonne has had to be extremely patient over the years, with clients turning up at the house and particularly with Horsfall Turner’s gruelling travel schedule. “There have been some years when I have been abroad more than I have been at home. I started off in 1972 doing a little bit of travel and it grew to the point where I was going away 25 to 30 times a year. In 1992 it declined and I was only going away around 12 times but then it picked up and I was going away about 50 to 60 times a year.” At that point, not unreasonably, he decided that he needed to cut back.

Those foreign trips have left him with handfuls of hotel room keys that have returned home with him, including one to the suite at the Plaza in New York where The Great Gatsby was filmed. Other hotels have not been quite such a joy – including one in Sudan with blood on the floor from a recent attempted coup.

Horsfall Turner does not name travel as one of the things he will spend his retirement on. Instead he intends to return to the singing he loves, remodel the interior of one of his 17th century houses and perhaps buy a canal boat again.

And he now has a client to thank for another expensive pursuit which he claims accounts for his biggest single expenditure – the opera. A client at Orion Bank always used to invite the Horsfall Turners to Covent Garden when it was his turn to use the corporate tickets. Eventually the client retired, but by this time Mrs Horsfall Turner had got the opera bug and insisted that they should continue to go. “Unfortunately, the client always had seats in row F or G,” says Horsfall Turner, grimacing. “So my wife insisted that when we started to buy our own they should be in the same row.” But another hearty laugh suggests that he does not mind too much.
Jonathan Horsfall Turner
Allen & Overy