Recorded: 08 May 2008
I wasn’t involved in moving the Trust from being a small organization to a large organization, but I was there when it all happened. And I was party to at least to some of the discussions. But I mean it moved from an organization that was the…So the Wellcome Trust was organized in such a way that there was a group of us involved with dealing with the science, and then there was another group that was involved with the investments and managing the money and of course that all went then to the director and the Board of Governors.
So in 1985, 1986 the Governors decided that it was not safe to have all of their investments in a single company. So they were the entire owners of the multinational company Burroughs Wellcome it was called here. Wellcome Foundation Limited it was called in the rest of the world. And so they had to go to - Henry Wellcome’s will basically stated that you will always own the company, so they had to go to a high court to argue the case and get the will changed. One of the reasons - this was driven by a particular governor because his father had been the chairman of the Nuffield Foundation which owned all the shares in a British car company that went down the tube essentially overnight.
And so the foundation went from being own of the richest foundations in the U.K. to being essentially unable to pay the laundry bill, I exaggerate a little. So he didn’t want to see that happen. The high court agreed that a proportion of the shares in the company could be sold on the open market. It was the largest private flotation ever in the U.K.. And I think they sold forty percent of the company.
And that was also at the time when the company was very, very successful in developing the first antivirals against HIV and against herpes so the profits of the company were going up by forty percent per annum. So we were going through incredible growth period in terms of what we could do for science in the U.K. at a time where we were still reeling from the cuts that Margaret Thatcher and the conservative government sort of imposed on the research system in the U.K. But from a U.K. perspective in particular this was absolutely unbelievably fortunate that the wealth of the Wellcome Trust expanded at a time when science funding across the board, of course we don’t deal with physics, so when I say “we”, I am no longer part of the Wellcome Trust.
And then gradually over the next ten years or so more shares were sold and now the Trust is positioned more like a pension fund in that it has investments in property, it has investments around the world and about four hundred companies. It has a venture fund that it funds innovative research. And I think we all had that disaster around 9/11 when the stock market collapsed. The investment portfolio is up now again pushing thirty billion dollars.
Michael Morgan, currently professor emeritus of biology, specialized in plant ecology and bioclimatology. He earned his BA from Butler University, MS and Ph.D form University of Illinois. He received the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Founders's Association Award for Excellence in Teaching and Sabbatical during the 1991-92 academic year with the Conservation Research Group, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Michael Morgan is a member of American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ecological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Sciences, Society for Conservation Biology and Natural Areas Association.
More Information: UWGB