I was reminded this week of my grandfather, who went by his initials, DKD. He arrived in Britain early in the 20th century from Central Europe, a young man with a head full of ideas, but few beans in his pocket. His wife was called Jimmy. She'd attended a fancy dress party as a boy, and the name stuck.
When I was a kid, DKD and Jimmy lived in an apartment opposite London's Hyde Park, which today only a sultan or a movie star could afford. They also had a jet-black Hawker Siddeley, a top-of-the-line British sedan, with a chauffeur called McCoy. He was only ever referred to as "the real McCoy." For years, I thought he had an evil doppelganger.
DKD was a corporation man, the managing director of a U.K. chain of women's apparel stores. On his retirement, he was presented with a leather-bound book, hand-written in the finest copperplate script, in inks of many colors. It was an infinitely superior version of the Hallmark card passed around the office today. Written beneath a short valediction were the names of every one of the company's hundreds of employees.
I mention this because family histories become notoriously inflated. Best, then, to present only what I know to be true. DKD took the majority of his remuneration in salary and benefits--the apartment, the car, McCoy. My grandparents lived the good life; I remember furs, jewels, and, above all, the glamour of being DKD and Jimmy.
DKD had a few company shares. Stock options were not ubiquitous, as they are today. Others whose contribution was less visible than DKD's had shares. As a result, my branch of those associated with the company is, more or less, the only not encumbered by a large fortune.
DKD and Jimmy lived the latter part of their lives at the apex of society. Theirs was the classic rags-to-riches tale. Jimmy, legend has it, scrubbed doorsteps when the couple were on the way up.
I tell you this to illustrate the importance to tomorrow of the decisions we make today. DKD might have been better advised to have more stock and fewer perks, but I disagree: He did well enough by his family, leaving his few shares in trust to his daughters and their children.
The shares paid no dividends for decades. Instead of benefiting future generations, the trusts drained the pockets of the trustees, my father and my uncle. They continually paid accountants' and lawyers' fees for maintaining the trust, with no income to show for it. Trusts were rare in those days, and were insanely expensive. By taking the best legal advice, DKD mildly impoverished the rest of us. The shares did finally sell, but we received only a tiny fraction of what he had hoped to pass on to us.
The man I knew as a kindly, bespectacled, slightly stooped, Winston Churchill-style figure, always impeccably dressed, rarely lost an argument. His word was his bond and his will was done.
My heart always belonged to Jimmy. She was just about the finest human being I ever met: independent, an adventurous and often atrocious cook, a great gin rummy player (always learn from the best), and utterly at ease in her own skin. She survived DKD by several years, and undertook grand travels halfway round the world on battered commercial steamers.
They don't make them like DKD and Jimmy any more, although some of top corporation men I meet remind me, conceptually, of DKD. Observing them, I have learned more about him.
So, to recap: take stock options whenever possible; obtain a second opinion where professionals are concerned; learn from the best; and, above all, take no guff.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for
Risk & Insurance®.
October 1, 2006
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