When Andrew Law began working in the City of London back in the late 1980s, the recent ‘Big Bang’ deregulation of the financial markets which opened the door to international firms had begun to shift the near-monopoly of Oxbridge graduates over starting careers there – but some attitudes persisted.
“Things were just starting to change,” recalls Law, now chairman and chief executive of the Caxton Associates hedge fund which has billions of pounds worth of assets under its management. “I started to work with 27 others at what was a British merchant bank in 1987. Even then the vast majority were Oxbridge graduates. We were introducing ourselves and I said I had been to Sheffield University and somebody joked I must have read cutlery. It was meant as a joke but I haven’t forgotten it.
“Sheffield has a much better name today than it had then but I still think it is not well known enough by outsiders.”
Law is speaking to The Yorkshire Post over the phone after taking a considerable step towards addressing that very point earlier this month; the charitable foundation run and funded by him and his portrait photographer wife Zoë has donated £5.85m to the university – the single biggest charitable donation from an individual in the university’s 116-year history and one which has made national headlines.
The money from the Law Family Charitable Foundation will be spent in two areas; with £2.85m earmarked for enabling more opportunities for students from poorer areas to attend university and £3m allocated towards crucial medical research by Sheffield scientists into gene therapy for rare diseases that have devastating impacts on people’s lives.
Caxton, which bets on bonds, currencies and stocks and is one of the world’s oldest hedge funds, enjoyed a highly-successful 2020 after making shrewd moves during the market volatility caused by the global coronavirus crisis. In December, The Financial Times reported Caxton’s flagship Global fund had made 40 per cent gains in 2020, taking its assets under management to $4.9bn.
The 2020 Sunday Times rich list estimated Law’s own personal worth at £550m. When I ask him if that figure is accurate, Law diplomatically says: “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.”
What is not in dispute is Law’s growing reputation as a philanthropist. The 54-year-old, who grew up in Cheadle Hulme near Stockport and is the son of a mechanical engineer and a nurse, is also chairman of the Speakers for Schools. The organisation, which is funded by the Laws’ foundation, sends inspirational and often famous speakers into state schools as well as facilitating work experience placements with 300 companies.
The other good causes the pair support include cancer support charity Maggie’s, social mobility organisation The Sutton Trust and child mental health and counselling service Place2Be, as well as financing an educational trust based in Greater Manchester which runs schools including the comprehensive Law attended himself.
Law says the couple’s foundation applies the same principles to supporting charities that he approaches his hedge fund investments with – managing risk and looking for a clear plan to get a return on investment.
“What Zoë and I have been very much focused on is making sure the money goes to those projects and charities who have a model which is proven, where there are going to be multipliers accrued from the donations,” he explains.
He credits the work of Bank of England chief economist and fellow Sheffield alumni Andy Haldane at the Pro Bono Economics organisation, which helps charities and social enterprises understand and improve the impact and value of their work so they can demonstrate how they benefit society.
The University of Sheffield, where Law graduated with a first class honours degree, has now passed the foundation’s high bar for receiving donations.
He says the donation is partly in response to the ongoing educational challenges caused by the pandemic.
“The Covid situation has had an enormous impact on everybody’s lives. It has further challenged the prospects of those from disadvantaged backgrounds from being able to afford to go to university,” he says.
“Although students can get student loans it is quite a daunting amount to borrow and there are also all the living costs and everything else.
“This programme is designed to make these decisions easier and ensure many of these prospective students do go to university. At Sheffield, their existing outreach programme has been very successful. They have brought large numbers and cohorts of students in who wouldn’t have otherwise attended and made a difference.”
Law adds he is hopeful that the other element of the work focused on medical research into gene therapy will lead to tangible results.
“The Covid vaccines are a reminder to us all that science is so important to everybody in society. There are many degenerative diseases out there and the University of Sheffield is very well placed to push forwards with gene therapy and hopefully make some real solutions.
“There is going to be some very focused work by the university which will be forthcoming.”
Laws says the process of making the donation has brought back many happy memories of his time in Sheffield, which had a growing reputation for its innovative economics course at the time he attended.
“I wanted to go and work in the City of London. I was very lucky the Big Bang meant the City was opening up to American firms and gone were the days of you had to go to Oxbridge to get a job there.
“Sheffield had a revolutionary course at the time in option pricing and they had some great professors. It was across the Pennines from where I had grown up but not too close and it had a great reputation as a student town with both universities. These were the days of 5p anywhere bus fares and 50p for a pint in the student union.”
Law set up the charity foundation with his wife in 2011 and he says going public both about the charity and then the different donations it makes was a considered decision. “It is a two-stage process – the first is the decision to give something to others or to give back, as some people would say. Then the question is should it be done privately? Many would take that route and many do take that route. But I do think doing it openly might help encourage others to do the same. We have seen the effect on charities’ finances from Covid and demand for their services has grown.
“Society needs more from charities - Government can’t provide everything. The charity sector has got an important role to play, that is one of the big lessons of the past year.”
He says the Sheffield announcement may well bring a further increase in public profile personally but he hopes it will also raise awareness of the university’s positive work in Yorkshire.
“One of the university’s big challenges is it has enormous success but they are not really known about outside the university. The university’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre has hundreds of people working on the Sheffield/Rotherham border. Sheffield has done terrific work. It is really imperative universities become more commercially successful in England - Oxford and Cambridge have and so do American universities.
“It has a big part to play in the levelling up agenda.”
Law has also been one of the biggest donors to the Conservative Party in recent years but sees himself as very much a political moderate, stressing he did not support the Tories for much of the 1990s and 2000s.
But he adds: “From my perspective, they helped open the City of London up in a way that have me an opportunity I wouldn’t have had a few years before. My politics are pretty centre-ground. I’m very supportive of the levelling-up agenda, which is where my passion lies.
“I view politics through the prism of trying to make people’s lives better and that is it really.”
It is through that perspective that the university donation has been made.
He adds: “I’m just delighted to be supporting Sheffield. Sheffield was a really important part of my journey in life and it is great to be able to support others now.”
How money will be used
The Laws’ donation will make a “huge difference”, says the university’s vice-chancellor.
Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, says: ““We would like to thank Andrew, Zoë and The Law Family Charitable Foundation for making such a generous gift to the University.
“It will drive the next crucial step in research to tackle a range of diseases for which there is currently no cure, as well as provide vital support to students and young people who are considering applying to university. The gift will have a real impact and we are extremely grateful.”
A new student support initiative named The Law Family Ambition Programme will run over a five-year period to help disadvantaged students from low participation backgrounds access university and help them develop the skills, confidence and social abilities to graduate into successful careers.
It will fund new scholarships, academic mentoring, residential summer schools, career mentoring from successful Sheffield alumni, networking coaching, work placements and employability and skills workshops with businesses.
The donation will also enable the University of Sheffield to expand and enhance its Discover outreach programme, which widens access to professions for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds throughout the north of England.
Meanwhile, the medical research donation will fund innovative research that could lead to the development of medical therapies for a range of rare genetic diseases which have a devastating effect on people’s lives.
The university is already part of a new consortium which aims to accelerate the development of advanced therapies allowing potentially transformative treatments to reach patients sooner. It will use the donation to develop further partnerships with biotech and pharma companies to help accelerate gene therapy programmes and clinical trials for rare diseases at the same time as supporting regional economic growth and job creation.
A university spokesman said: “The donation presents a real opportunity to drive innovation and excellence in the area of gene therapy and to catalyse the creation of new start-up companies to facilitate commercialisation in the North.”
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.