Chris Hohn: from hedge fund moneymaker to climate crusty

Chris Hohn made more money in financial markets than any of the world’s most successful hedge funds. But his lucre is all for a higher purpose – not least, saving the planet.

Chris Hohn once described himself as an “unbelievable moneymaker”. He’s not wrong about that, says Forbes. Hohn’s London-based firm, TCI Fund Management, made more money in financial markets than any of the world’s most successful hedge funds in 2019. Unlike many of his counterparts, Hohn has consistently outperformed, producing $22.8bn of net gains between 2004 and 2019. Last year he also set a new UK record for pay – collecting £343m in annual dividend payments, which amounts to around £1m a day. Quite a feat for a man who once claimed: “I don’t really care about money”. 

Majoring in yoga

Hohn, 55, has made his name, and his cash, as an aggressive activist investor, unafraid to shake up boards – and as a determined philanthropist, says The Guardian. His former wife once explained that setting up The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (TCI) was “not about putting a warm and fuzzy face” on his activities, but “very much about keeping Chris motivated” to produce the highest returns possible: the business was set up so that one third of TCI’s management fees went straight to the couple’s children’s charity foundation.

He practises an ascetic lifestyle – avoiding meat and doing yoga – and has long embraced green causes. Even so, says Metro, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the billionaire knight who once employed chancellor Rishi Sunak is a leading funder of the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion.

Born in 1966, to a Jamaican car mechanic who came to Britain in the 1960s, and a legal secretary, Hohn grew up in Addlestone, Surrey, and gained a first-class degree in accounting and business economics from Southampton University. He was greatly affected by a trip to the Philippines “where, as a 20-year-old, he saw children living on a rubbish dump”, says The Guardian. He became determined then to become a philanthropist, but realised that “a dream or aspiration without resources is just that” – paving the way for an MBA at Harvard.

He went on to work for private-equity group Apax Partners before moving to the Wall Street hedge fund Perry Capital and moving back to Britain in 1998 to become head of its London operation. He struck out on his own in 2003 to form TCI, seeking to apply a private-equity manager’s mindset to researching publicly traded companies and buying out deeply undervalued stocks, says Institutional Investor. This quickly earned him enemies. One opponent, former Deutsche Börse boss Werner Seifert, was so angry after losing a boardroom battle that he wrote a book, Invasion of the Locusts, describing Hohn’s style as “poison”.

An extinction rebellion

Hohn does seem to have captured “the zeitgeist” in the battle to stem climate change, however, says City AM. As ever, he’s standing apart from the mainstream – slamming collective initiatives such as the UN Principles for Responsible Banking and Glasgow Net Zero Banking Alliance, led by Mark Carney, for dragging their feet over putting an “end to risk fossil-fuel lending”. A particular bête noir is fellow London hedgie Crispin Odey, who recently described buying up unloved oil and gas stocks as “a great... idea”. It’s not exactly “Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua”, says the Financial Times, but the stakes don’t get much higher in this heavyweight clash. Hohn and Odey “are scrapping over the survival of the planet”.

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