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June 14, 2013

Hedgehog 33: Art at lunch, electric cars, bonus points

By Spear's

In this issue, Hedgehog tackles some green causes close to Ben Goldsmith’s heart

In this issue, Hedgehog tackles some green causes close to Ben Goldsmith’s heart

In the frame

Hedgehog always fancied himself in a scholar’s gown — those billowing black sleeves are très dramatique. Turns out, though, that London Art Studies — a lunch-and-lecture series on everything from Old Masters to ‘tarts in art’ (not the pastry kind) — doesn’t require formal academic dress. Nevertheless, I rocked up to Koffmann’s at the Berkeley in my finest subfusc.

Kate Gordon has been running London Art Studies for just over a year now, securing respected and personable art historians to give three lectures, punctuated by coffee and lunch. You start at 10am and are gone by 3pm; it’s £175 all-in.

In mid-May, the excellent Ben Street, who lectures at the National Gallery and the Tates and writes essays and reviews, was talking about ‘New Art from Old’: how Contemporary artists have not only been influenced by Old Masters but have also changed the way we look at them, viewing the old in the light of the new.

Sitting in two rows in Koffmann’s private dining room, the students listened attentively as Street spoke of nudes through the centuries and how our view of Corot has been ‘Freudified’ after Lucian. Occasionally hands popped up for questions and one lady, in true school-swot style (admittedly, usually my role), called out the names of the artists whose paintings were being shown on a screen.

There is a winning keenness to the students (mostly well-off, under-stimulated ladies), a will to learn even when life offers all its other distractions. The lack of commitment needed — you can go on one or many days and lectures are repeated — helps, too. If you’re too cool for school, then you’re just right for London Art Studies.

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A pedestrian walking up Albemarle Street this spring, past the art galleries and Babbo, toward the Royal Institution, would have been greeted by the usual fleet of Maseratis and Porsches, but also, as a series of investor roadshows happened inside the RI, a shapely two-seater hydrogen car sitting outside.

Riversimple, the Shropshire brainchild of Hugo Spowers, an intrepid former racecar engineer turned ‘whole systems engineer’, has developed a car which, thanks to a clever combination of lightweight materials, brakes that also act as generators, ultracapacitors (‘Not batteries!’ exclaims the designer to me) and other wizardry, does the equivalent of 300mpg.

The cars do more than spin their wheels well, the private bankers and family offices at the roadshows were told: they’re also money-spinners. By leasing the vehicles rather than selling them, the company will generate £14,000 profit over each car’s lifespan rather than the £1,000 which we were told is generated in an upfront sale by the average small-car manufacturer today. Annual revenues therefore accrue exponentially with the total number of cars on the road — not simply the number of sales made each year.

This is Spowers’ secret weapon when it comes to pushing over the tin men of Stuttgart and Detroit. Riversimple has attracted some big-name converts from the industry, including Chris Reitz — designer of the now-ubiquitous Fiat 500 — and, most compellingly, investment from a branch of the Piëch family. With modest achievements such as Volkswagen and Porsche under the family’s belt, investors should get into gear.

Give better

Whether you’ve got £10 or £10 million to give to charity, most people hope that their donation will make a difference — but this can often be hard to measure. A simple, seemingly intuitive way is to consider what proportion of your donation will actually go to the end beneficiary, and how much will be spent on the charity’s admin and fundraising costs. 

Say, for instance, you want to donate £20 towards a charity delivering emergency aid to Syria. Would you rather go for a charity that promises that £19 of your donation will be spent directly on that emergency aid, with the rest used to cover the charity’s core costs, or the charity that promises that £18 will reach Syria? 

Most would go for the first option, but new research conducted by Giving Evidence (directed by Spear’s contributor Caroline Fiennes) and GiveWell suggests that could be the wrong choice. 

GiveWell is run by former Wall Street analysts, who recommend charities on the basis of whether they have a clear need for money, if they deliver impact and if their activities are cost-effective. It has found that the charities it recommends tend to spend an average of 11.5 per cent of their costs on administration, while charities that GiveWell reviewed but didn’t recommend spent less: 10.8 per cent on average.

This trend is even more pronounced for GiveWell’s 2009 figures when it ranked charities into four categories — then, the highest-rated charities spent 16 per cent of their budgets on admin, while the lowest-performing spent 9.5 per cent. 

This research not only challenges most donors’ instinctive beliefs about charitable giving, but also conflicts with government thinking on the issue: the Public Accounts Committee has suggested that charity’s admin costs should be capped.

If you think about it, the fact that a charity spends more on admin doesn’t necessarily imply that it is less effective than one with lower overheads. A charity that spends more money on monitoring the effectiveness of its programmes, for instance, might have higher overheads than one that doesn’t — but the money it does spend on beneficiaries is also likely to be spent more effectively. 

For many, charitable giving is an instinctive, natural reaction — but choosing who to support requires a little more thought.


For an alleged old-school Tory, David Cameron’s government has produced a real alphabet soup of buzzwords: Behaviour Change. Big Society. Social Impact Investing.

Not that these aren’t important things, but they’ve needed smart, forward-thinking people to knit them together. Deep in the Tory heartland of Henley-on-Thames (whose former MPs include Michael Heseltine and Boris Johnson), Hedgehog hears that a group of entrepreneurs has got together to turn fine words into worthy actions.

Reward Your World promises to take business sponsorship — CSR, if you will — and turn it into behaviour change under the direction of local councils. What happens is that PR-hungry businesses sponsor bundles of ‘BetterPoints’ which are earned by people in return for Doing the Right Thing; they can then be redeemed against their shopping (the sainted can also donate them to charities as cash).

At first, this sounds like a dystopian marriage better suited to Blade Runner than the Thames Valley. But the activities you earn points from are more Archers than Orwell — regenerating high streets, using public transport, recycling and volunteering on local projects. Doing good is its own reward, of course… but every little helps.

Perking up

When not plotting his next bonus, the Daily Telegraph’s long-standing cartoon banker Alex dedicates a substantial amount of his time to exploiting corporate perks. But in recent years many real-life Alexes, who have been jettisoned from large-corporate life to boutiques or even self-employment, have found the sybaritic pleasures paid for by their former shareholders have been hitting them rather hard in the wallet.

To alleviate this financial suffering, Paris-based private equity baron John Ein has started a travel club aimed at aggregating demand from individuals and smaller businesses to access the same volume discounts enjoyed by large corporates. For a $1,000-per-year membership fee, Marchay offers discounts ranging from 30 to 50 per cent at salubrious spots such the Connaught in London and
the Mark in New York, with Virgin Upper Class tickets for jetting between.

Memberships are also being touted as a perk for bankers and wealth managers to offer their clients. So we propose a game while waiting for your next delayed flight — count the smirks and guess who’s on a sneaky discount.

Mexican wave

At Cuixmala, his 32,000-acre estate on the Mexican Pacific, Sir James Goldsmith decided it was time to go back to the wild. Modernity was fine, but restored wilderness, with its now-rare and endangered animals, was something to fight for.

Today it’s something visitors can enjoy, as Cuixmala, under the ownership of the Marcaccini family, has become a luxury eco-tourism destination: ‘1,000 hectares of fascinating discovery, both physical and spiritual’, says Alix Marcaccini, where zebras, kudus and gazelles roam freely.

Food is grown at Cuixmala too: ‘Jimmy’s brother Teddy was one of the first exponents of eco-friendly farming and was a teacher for my father and me,’ says Alix.

‘With 35 years of love and vision, the Marcaccini and Goldsmith families have created an oasis of harmony, coexistence and regeneration.’


Favourite restaurant in London?

Racine — fried brains on toast, snails, just a few of things I love in a refined but relaxing room with a great wine list.

City or country?

Country — I care more about nature than I do about buildings. It’s wrapped up with a lot of my interests.

Guilty pleasure?

Bacon Frazzles — piggy, crunchy, smoky, salty. The fake rashers make me laugh every time.

Sweet or savoury?

Savoury — I never plan on eating puddings even though I enjoy them. The smell of hot cheese or meat over charcoal… Need I say more?

What would your last meal be?

Huge platter of fruits de mer with an industrial-size bucket of mayonnaise, four loaves of sourdough and a case of my favourite ciders. It brings back happy memories of my father and me in Paris together.

Favourite artisan producer?

Dunkerton’s Black Fox Cider: proper cider. It should be behind every bar.

What is your London hidden gem?

The John Soane Museum on Lincoln’s Inn Fields — it’s a quirky little museum with some real surprises.

The paperback version of The Good Table is out in autumn 2013

Read more from Ben Goldsmith’s guest-edit


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