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The life lesson I learned from Jim Slater

November 22, 2015

I owe a lot to Jim Slater, who died this week, as reported in many places, such as here.

Jim is best known as a great investor; and well known as someone who rose to prominence in British industry, lost a fortune, and rebuilt it. I was lucky enough to meet him once, in 1993 (thank you, google, for enabling me to be precise on this year) when he came to Manchester to promote an investment service (Company Refs) which he was launching. I was able to thank him for the main two things he did for me, namely:

  • sponsor the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match in Reykjavik;
  • sponsor myself and other England juniors in the 1970s and 1980s.

Without Jim’s finance, the great Fischer-Spassky match, which brought me into chess, would never have happened.

But the great lesson he taught me was not about investment- even though I have always read whatever article of his I come across, and really liked his book, the Zulu Principle; no, it was far simpler.

In 2003-2004, I made great efforts to raise money for England chess, and specifically for our Olympiad team for Calvia, Mallorca, 2004; not entirely successful, not entirely unsuccessful. I managed to find Jim’s address, and wrote to him there, asking if he would be minded to sponsor the team. I got a very courteous reply saying “no” and we had a phone call as well: alas, no-one in the chess world ever thanked him for sponsoring the 1972 match, and, worse, the (then called) British Chess Federation had never thanked him for supporting the junior team; and neither had either any of the players or any of their parents. Ever; not one.

Looking back, I did thank him myself in the 1990s; but as a 14 year old, when I joined the England squad, I only had vague ideas about money and the Slater Foundation; now, as an adult, I can see the importance of thank yous.

Jim wasn’t to be persuaded, and neither did I try too hard.

So, the most valuable lesson he taught me was the power of saying thank you. It is a life lesson I hope I have learned, and one of great importance. It is so often not said.

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