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Hodge, Sir Julian Stephen Alfred (1904–2004), merchant banker, businessman, and philanthropist, was born on 15 October 1904 at 12 Vicarage Road, Camberwell, London, the son of Alfred Hodge, a journeyman plumber and gas fitter, and his wife, Jane Emily, née Simcock (d. 1946). Hodge was entirely a self-made man who rose from extreme poverty to great wealth. His father had taken the family to Wales in search of plumbing work in 1909. They settled among the coal-mining community of Pontllanfraith, in the Sirhowy valley, where the newly emerging Labour Party dominated political life. One of eight children, Julian left school at thirteen. Without family money, connections, or qualifications, it was to be many years before he would make a significant impact on the south Wales business community. Meanwhile, he built his career and reputation slowly, steadily, and solidly. In his late teens he joined the Great Western Railway (GWR) as a clerk on 30s. a week. He was eighteen when his father returned to London a broken man, and Hodge became the breadwinner with responsibility for supporting his mother and four younger siblings still living at home.

Consistent with his mother's oft-expressed family motto, ‘savoir est pouvoir’, Hodge took evening classes at Cardiff Technical College and qualified as an accountant in 1930. While continuing to work for the GWR, he put up a brass plate—‘Julian S. Hodge, Certified Accountant’—outside his mother's terraced house and began to trawl the Welsh valleys for private and small business clients. ‘Night after murky night Julian walked the streets in a bowler hat, with rolled umbrella and case full of leaflets and proposal forms, knocking on every door’ (O'Sullivan, 23). By the mid-1930s he had built up a small accountancy practice and a thriving life assurance business, conducted through a number of branches which he opened in the valleys and co-ordinated from a head office in Cardiff from 1941. After the Second World War he sold cars to an eager public on hire purchase in a society and at a time when involvement with credit was not considered quite respectable. On 31 December 1951 he married Moira Thomas (b. 1924), a secretary in his Cardiff office and the daughter of John Oswald Thomas, colliery winder; the couple had two sons and a daughter.

Hodge first came to prominence in wider business circles in the 1950s styling himself as a defender of the interests of the small shareholder in controversial takeover bids involving companies such as Singer Motors, the Ely Brewery Co., and Standard Motors. Through his interventions, Hodge won improved deals for the ‘little man’. As one Singer shareholder put it: ‘Mr Hodge has been doing what the board should have done, playing off both sides against each other in a most masterly fashion’ (O'Sullivan, 46). Many grateful shareholders naturally turned to Hodge's own businesses to act as custodians for their savings and as the subject of their investments. More widely Hodge increasingly saw his business activities as an attempt to create an independent financial system for Wales. The south Wales economy, based on coal and steel, was in terminal decline at the start of Hodge's career, and it became his firm belief that Wales might have countered the socially damaging effects of the depression more successfully had it enjoyed the benefit of an indigenous financial infrastructure. His inspiration was, he claimed, an 1812 note from the now defunct Bank of Newport which prompted his vision of a national bank for Wales. It became one of his life's ambitions to wrestle some of the control of Welsh industries' finances from the institutions of the City of London. However the City did not smooth his way towards achievement of that goal.

In the late 1950s Hodge's attempt to gain an issuing house licence was blocked by the London stock exchange. He refused to accept the decision and vigorously and successfully pursued the matter with the Board of Trade. In 1960 he formed Julian S. Hodge & Co. with powers akin to those of a merchant bank. His decision to establish a second bank for Wales in 1971 proved no more popular with the London-based financial establishment. At a meeting with members of the Bank of England, the Treasury, and the Board of Trade, the triumvirate agreed to Hodge's proposal conditional on an established bank taking a 20 per cent stake in the venture. As Hodge later put it—‘they thought they were on to a winner … they did not imagine for one moment that I would get a bank to take up 20% of something which, at that time, was a bit of a pipe dream’ (letter to Roger Mansfield, 11 Sept 2002, Hodge–Mansfield correspondence, priv. coll.). But they were wrong. Hodge secured a meeting with the chairman of the First National Bank of Chicago who, within thirty minutes, agreed to take up the necessary equity stake. The resulting institution was named the Commercial Bank of Wales after Hodge's preferred title, the Bank of Wales, had prompted objections from the Bank of England. In 1981 an application for full banking status was denied on the grounds that the Commercial Bank of Wales did not enjoy the required ‘high reputation and standing in the financial community’ (The Times, 21 July 2004). This was a significant setback for Hodge, but also spurred him on; as Daniel Mullins, the former Roman Catholic bishop of Menevia, told the congregation at Hodge's memorial service, ‘Sir Julian never shirked from a challenge—indeed, I think he enjoyed them’ (quoted in South Wales Echo, 29 Oct 2004). With characteristic resolve, this further slight from the authorities was overcome, and in 1984 the renamed Bank of Wales was given the status of a fully fledged bank and successfully floated on the London stock exchange. ‘All Wales will rejoice’, he declared on hearing the decision (The Times, 21 July 2004). Hodge's final major business achievement was to found the Julian Hodge Bank (1987) where his son Jonathan served for a number of years as executive deputy chairman.

In common with most successful businessmen, Hodge's career was not without mistakes and reversals. He did not foresee, and did not respond sufficiently quickly to, the high interest rate regime put in place by Harold Wilson's government after 1964. The discovery that a key company within his financial empire, Anglo Auto Finance Ltd, had extensive bad debts caused group profits and Hodge's personal prestige to plunge. Characteristically, he fought back vigorously and effectively. He secured financial backing from the Chartered Bank and, by the early 1970s, annual profits from Hodge's operations were in the region of £7 million. It was a measure of his financial astuteness, or good fortune, that he sold the group (renamed Chartered Trust in 1979) for £45 million to its backer, by this time called Standard Chartered Bank, in October 1973. Just a few days afterwards, the collapse of London and Counties Securities triggered the secondary banking crisis. Indirectly, this deal had further harmful implications for Hodge's public profile. Adverse press comment followed the discovery, soon after the takeover, that the Hodge group had lent money on second mortgages to immigrant investors who used it to finance a pyramid-selling cosmetic franchise that collapsed. Hodge denied any knowledge of such arrangements but, soon afterwards, attracted public opprobrium with allegations of excessive interest rates, sometimes linked with second mortgages, producing severe hardships for those who defaulted. Although he offered easier payments to those threatened with eviction, these events caused lasting damage to his reputation. Indeed, his financial expedients attracted unfavourable parliamentary comment, while the satirical magazine Private Eye dubbed him ‘the Usurer of the Valleys’ (quoted in The Times, 21 July 2004).

Having made his fortune, Hodge turned his attention to philanthropic work. Guided by his mentor, Sir Isaac Wolfson, he established the Jane Hodge Foundation (1962) in honour of his mother. The work of the foundation and his own charitable trust was extensive, and remained so in the early twenty-first century with, among other activities, support for homes for the elderly and the Ty Hafen children's hospice in Barry. He was ‘never a casual distributor of largesse’ (The Independent, 26 July 2004) and applied the same concern with value for money as he showed in his business career. Where he gave money, he wished it to make a difference. He was a strong supporter of the Welsh Heritage Schools initiative and, reflecting his desire to encourage excellence in Welsh business education, he provided key financial inputs for his former college (by the 1960s known as the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology or UWIST), and served as its treasurer (1968–76) and president (1981–5). He also played a significant role, behind the scenes, in ensuring its domination of the merger with the larger and older but financially riven University College, Cardiff, in the late 1980s. That merger saw the formation of the highly successful Cardiff Business School with which he remained closely associated right up until his death, funding chairs in finance, marketing, and international business and providing advice that was considered as valuable as his financial contribution. He also funded a chair in nursing and the university's Centre for Japanese Studies and Institute of Applied Macroeconomics. He was a practising Roman Catholic, and his offer of £3 million to build a new cathedral in Cardiff was not taken up.

Hodge was also politically active. He made powerful friends among Labour's leading Welsh politicians, such as James Callaghan and George Thomas (Lord Tonypandy), and was knighted by Harold Wilson's government in 1970. Hodge remained loyal to the Labour Party at a time when few leading businessmen judged it in their interests to do so, though from 1997 he opposed the Labour administration's plans for regional government and funded the anti-devolution campaign claiming that ‘Wales is being democratised to the point of exhaustion’ (Daily Telegraph, 20 July 2004). He was a resident of St Brelade, Jersey, from 1985, and it was from here that he orchestrated campaigns against a European parliament which he considered to be an assault on British sovereignty, and gave financial backing to Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party in the general election of 1997.

Why did Hodge fail to achieve acceptance by Britain's financial establishment? Part of the problem may have been his lending strategies, but also relevant was his refusal to conform to accepted norms of City behaviour, partly reflected in his determination to develop Cardiff as a financial centre in its own right. He managed his businesses far better than he did his public profile, and there are no obvious signs that diplomacy was his strong suit. Hodge was a man who generated strong emotions and his business activities attracted a disproportionate amount of critical press coverage. However, throughout his career he demonstrated verve and courage and, in common with most successful entrepreneurs, he also enjoyed his share of luck. He not only created, almost single-handed, a financial sector for Wales, he also raised national morale, and his business and philanthropic activities had a major and positive impact on the country. ‘The soaring Julian Hodge Building in Cardiff—the Welsh capital's first high-rise block—seemed to stand as a symbol of Wales's burgeoning commercial destiny’ (The Times, 21 July 2004). Although he had no appetite for the high life, Hodge enjoyed rubbing shoulders with his peer group—the rich and famous. Isaac Wolfson introduced him to John Paul Getty with the following endorsement: ‘This is my friend Julian. Do you know I have loaned him £35 million and never lost a penny nor had a sleepless night. He is fair. But he drives a hard bargain. In fact he is very much like me’ (South Wales Echo, 19 July 2004). A devoted family man and a very hard worker, in his limited spare time he was a keen gardener, an inquisitive reader and, during retirement, a regular player at Jersey's La Moye golf course. He died on 18 July 2004 at St Aubin, Jersey, of bronchial pneumonia and was survived by his wife and three children.

John Richard Edwards

Sources  

T. O'Sullivan, Julian Hodge: a biography (1981) · A. Moreton, Cardiff University Magazine (2002) · South Wales Echo (19 July 2004); (20 July 2004); (29 Oct 2004) · Western Mail (20 July 2004) · Daily Telegraph (20 July 2004) · The Times (21 July 2004) · Financial Times (21 July 2004) · The Guardian (21 July 2004) · The Independent (26 July 2004) · WW (2004) · Burke, Peerage · J. Hodge and R. Mansfield, correspondence, priv. coll. · b. cert. · m. cert.

Likenesses  

portrait, 1970, Julian Hodge Bank, Cardiff · photograph, c.1981, repro. in O'Sullivan, Julian Hodge, jacket · obituary photographs