Interview with Justin Urquhart Stewart

Join us as Julie Lord, CEO of Magenta Financial Planning, asks Justin Urquhart Stewart, Co-founder of Seven Investment Management (7IM) about his financial experiences and how they have shaped his life.

This week we explore how Justin’s early years shaped his financial habits and viewpoints. Find out how a certain caramel coated chocolate bar gave a young Justin a taste for all things investment…


What messages did you get as a child about earning, spending, saving and giving?

My first experience of dealing with money was trying to make some more in the playground when I was about the age of seven, which is hindsight might be my lucky number.


The most expensive and tradable commodity of the day was the Mars bar. In pocket money terms, they were almost unaffordable.


Anyway I bought three Mars Bars – well actually they were mostly bought by a friend who I intended to pay back (with a little extra) if I completed my trades.


I had also purloined one of my father’s old flat shaving razors, and proceeded to slice the Mars Bars into six, selling them off as individual slices.


Over the next two days, I doubled my money, which was brilliant. I paid back my chum with a bit of interest (making it clear it was not a cut of the profits though) and worked out when I could re-run the scheme.


It worked perfectly twice more.


Then, one fateful day on my fourth scheme, a teacher asked what I was doing. I probably looked rather suspicious given I was ‘dealing’ in the corner of the playground.


When I explained, I was immediately frogmarched off to the headmistress’ study. And after an explanation, which got me nowhere, my sentence was swiftly pronounced by her. My protests that this was an informal juvenile kangaroo court went unheeded.


My sentence was six strikes with a bamboo, swagger stick cane. At least it wasn’t seven…but I’ve told you that’s my lucky number.


But what had been deemed the crime? It was not the trading of illicit goods, but rather being in possession of a dangerous weapon – my father’s now somewhat blunt razor blade. I still think fondly of the campaign that Gillette could have run: the best spank a man could get!


What did your mother teach you about money?

Unfortunately this was virtually nothing, primarily as no one had told her. My nanny however was far more useful as she moaned (it seemed endlessly) about how little she had. She seemed to know the price of just about everything, but especially her whiskey.


In fact, in later life, I was in the position to be able to teach my mother a few money facts – and it’s probably one of the main reasons why I advocate financial education so often, given how awful her life could have become without the financial acumen.


What did your father teach you about money?

Again, unfortunately he was not much help either. His career had been in the military first, and then was something in intelligence – a rarity in our gene pool – and therefore everything from income to health was sorted out as only those associated institutions do.


The only advice he gave that I can remember was to be wary of guns, and especially something known as a dum-dum bullet about which I knew nothing at all. A few years later, however, I got to know far more about those guns and bullets, and in a lot more detail when I was working for a well-known bank in Uganda and got caught up in the aftermath of a coup.


We had shooting guns at home for various country affairs, but then again this all just seemed to be for free.


Who made the big financial decisions in your family? Who paid the bills? Who gave you money as a child/teenager?

In hindsight, it seems that there was a family solicitor to whom everyone deferred when anything financial arose. He apparently dealt with everything to do with this tawdry subject that nobody ever talked about…apart from nanny.


My father did send me out to my first paying job. It was with Mr Brand, our local butcher. I was told that I was going to draw chickens. So I arrived with a new pad of paper and a set of revelry-sharpened pencils, only to be told that they would not be needed. Drawing a chicken meant something very different. If this was a way to earn money, then I was going back to Mars Bars…


Part 2 will be published next week – with about Justin’s views on the challenges modern families face when it comes to collateral.