Big shot of the week
ANDY HALDANE, 49 CHIEF ECONOMIST, BANK OF ENGLAND
THERE’S a story about Andy Haldane they love to tell down at Threadneedle Street, about the time he was brought on to bowl in (then) governor Lord King’s annual cricket match.
As the owlish King strode creakily to the crease, most expected the skinny young shaver clutching the ball to lob the old boy a gentle half volley.
Haldane, 49, whose bowling style at the time was described as ‘brisk to fast’, instead chose to bounce it halfway down the track, sending it fizzing past his boss’s nose.
Prescribing your ageing boss a heady dose of ‘chin music’ might sound like career harakiri, but the Bank of England’s likeable, £189,000-a-year chief economist doesn’t do conventional thinking.
With his stylish ties and beautifully cut suits he might dress like any other official striding through Threadneedle Street’s marbled hallways, but here such nods to conformity cease.
Outspoken and, at times, searingly honest, when Haldane’s avuncular northern burr comes on the airwaves, news-starved City scribes begin sharpening their pencils.
MEANWHILE, the Bank of England’s battalion of bleary- eyed press officers go scurrying for the nearest medicine cabinet. After all, it’s not often you hear one of its people, as he did in 2012, declaring the Occupy protesters ‘right’ for attacking the global financial system.
Last week, Haldane declared the economic community’s failure to see the 2008 crash coming as a ‘Michael Fish moment’– a reference to the BBC weatherman who rubbished the 1987 hurricane. His peers didn’t like that. Economists and central bankers are a bit like doctors and lawyers. Admissions of failure aren’t part of their clunky vocabulary. ‘ One doesn’t always agree with everything that’s said by colleagues,’ Haldane’s boss, governor Mark Carney, quietly grumbled. Haldane caused similar ructions last year by claiming property was a better provision for retirement than pensions. Societe Generale’s global strategist Albert Edwards described the comments as ‘totally stupid’ and said he should have been sacked. Calm down, dear!
Perhaps we should put such plainspeaking down to Haldane’s Yorkshire upbringing. Born and raised in Guiseley, the Leeds suburb which gave us Harry Ramsden’s famous fish and chips, his father was a professional musician who played the trumpet in seaside towns.
Money was scant in the Haldane household. They were turbulent economic times, particularly in the North, with unemployment rising above three million. Such an environment can shape a man’s thinking.
It was while attending Guiseley School that one of his A-Level teachers inspired his interest in economics and how it could be used to prevent the joblessness pervading his community. Fired by an ambition to improve people’s lives, he continued his economic studies at nearby Sheffield University, mainly, he says, so he could continue to play for his local cricket side, combining his studies with working on a fruit stall. He joined the Bank of England in 1989, expecting to stay a few years, but has remained there ever since.
During that time he has been fortunate to have been entrenched in some of the biggest financial events of the past quarter of a century. He was on the foreign-exchange desk during Britain’s departure from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. He was also in the international finance team during Russia’s default in 1998, and was in the financial stability department during the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
During Mervyn King’s governorship he soon came to be regarded as a favourite – despite his aforementioned cricket incident, which colleagues ascribe to a willingness to challenge Merv’s dizzying intellect in meetings.
Does his current boss hold his chief economist’s capacity for radical thought in similarly high regard? Relations between the pair sometimes appear less than cordial. Carney has a frosty habit of referring to him as ‘Mr Haldane’ in interviews, but one City veteran advises: ‘I suspect whenever Andy makes the headlines, Carney rolls his eyes, but it’s hard to imagine any animus toward him. It’s almost impossible to dislike Andy Haldane.’
Away from the City, he is married to Emma Hardaker- Jones, 42, the head of human resources at consultancy firm PA. The couple have three children, whom they have chosen to educate privately.
You’re unlikely to find him hobnobbing in boxes at Lord’s or picnicking at Glyndebourne. He spurns offers of corporate entertainment, aware of how it would be seen accepting hospitality from the private sector.
Such integrity is rare among our political class these days. Such wise judgment may stand him in good stead in the near future. With Mark Carney certain to depart in 2019, considerations are already under way for his replacement.
With the top job in mind – his name will almost certainly feature in a shortlist of candidates – might Haldane consider reining in his more maverick tendencies? We must hope not.
Like all fast bowlers, he’s best left untamed.