Intelligenthq had the pleasure of interviewing recently renowned investment manager Nicola Horlick. Nicola has worked in the fund management industry for over thirty years and has participated in the growth of some of the UK’s premier asset management businesses. She became the youngest director of merchant bank SG Warburg aged just 28, and in 1991, she moved on to success at Morgan Grenfell. Horlick was dubbed ‘superwoman’ in the late 1990s as she juggled a top City job with the demands of raising six children. Her eldest daughter Georgina tragically died at the age of 12.
Horlick is now the CEO of Money&Co, a company operating in the crowdfunding and peer-to-peer (P2P) lending sector. The platform specialises in business loans, matching individual investors with businesses seeking finance to grow. In a multifaceted career, she’s also a restaurateur, author and film producer.
In this lengthy interview, Nicola generously tells us about her career, future plans and her vision about some of the ongoing trends happening in finance. We are pleased to publish the interview on International Women’s Day because Nicola Horlick’s story, as you will read, can inspire generations of future girls and women. Working in the competitive male dominated world of Finance, Nicola was able to successfully combine motherhood with an impressive professional career and her drive and enthusiasm for continuous growth never stops.
Intelligenthq: Tell me about your background and education.
Nicola Horlick: I had an audition at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) when I was 17, but I also had a place at Oxford University. And so, I had an interview with the principal of RADA and he said “I think you should take up your place at Oxford and you should do as much acting as possible when you’re at Oxford then come back.” So I went to Oxford, did lots of acting then I ended up going into the City.
This was partly because I met my first husband, the father of my six children, at Oxford and he wasn’t so keen on me being an actress. He felt like that was going to be a bit of a nightmare, and so I sort of ended up doing something I didn’t expect to do, which was moving into finance, and I got a place on the graduate training scheme at S.G Warburg which at the time was regarded as being the best bank in the City. I was really excited when I got that job and it was very lucky that I ended up working there because it was a true meritocracy. I worked very hard and I got promoted every year and I ended up being a director at 28 years old. I was actually the youngest director ever at Warburgs at that time. So, the fact that I was a woman and I had two children and in fact one of them, the week that I got promoted, was diagnosed with leukaemia, did not prevent them from promoting me. So, it was a true meritocracy. I was extremely lucky because you hear these stories about discrimination and terrible behaviour towards women in the City, but that never happened to me.
Intelligenthq: So you did not experience discrimination in the city or witnessed it ?
Nicola Horlick: I was a director at Warburgs when I was 28 so that gave me a status that went beyond gender. People just didn’t see me really as a woman. They saw me as a very senior person. Afterwards I was then headhunted by Morgan Grenfell to go and run their UK fund management business. I was 30 when I joined them and their business was doing really badly. It had gone from £10 billion under management to £4 billion under management in the previous three years, and was heading for the ground very fast. They needed somebody to turn it around. They hired me to do that and I took a couple of people with me from Warburgs but I also then re-engineered the team that was there and then hired a couple of additional people from other organizations. The business turned around fast and it began to grow very rapidly and it went from £4 billion to £22.5 billion over the following 5 years. And then, after that, I was hired by Societe Generale (SocGen), the French bank, to set up their fund management business in London from scratch. That business started off with me, a Frenchman and a secretary and in a few months, it became 180 people. I hired them all myself so it was a major task, interviewing people – several people a day. And we built a very successful business and the management team owned 30% of it, which we agreed to sell back to them at the end of 2001.
Afterwards I set up my first completely independent fund management business called Bramdean Asset Management in 2004, that was then launched in 2005. I still have that now, it still exists. Then I went on to set up a private equity business with two other people called Rockpool Investments which is also still going and is very successful. And then I set up Money&Co. in 2013 which is a lending platform, which was launched in April 2014. That’s what I spend most of my time doing now. It’s my day job. I also set-up a media business which has a whole slate of feature films and TV shows called Derby Street and that is going well. So, yeah I’ve got lots of plates that are still spinning but they are all independent and boutique-type operations and I prefer that.
Intelligenthq: You prefer that…why?
Nicola Horlick: It’s more nerve-racking because I am completely responsible for financing and I have to go out and raise new equity if we need it, but it is really exciting watching businesses grow. When I had big bank funding, I would just ask for more money if I needed it and they would give it to me. And I used to have huge numbers of people doing everything for me in the banks whereas when you’re an entrepreneurial business you don’t have that backup and support but, it’s much more fun. I’m in charge of my own destiny, I don’t have to put up with the politics that go with being in a very large organization and that actually is the main thing.
I hated the politics. It’s so destructive and wastes so much time, especially when you’re dealing with French and German banks which I was, because Morgan Grenfell was owned by Deutsche Bank. So I was having to deal with people in Frankfurt and people in Paris and all the politics and I just got sick of it basically. I stopped working for big banks in 2003 so it’s now 16 years since I started running more entrepreneurial businesses, so it’s a long time that I’ve been doing it on my own. I’ve been working in the city for 36 years in October. So I did 20 years working in very large organizations and 16 years on my own.
Intelligenthq: Can you tell me more about Money&Co. and also the film company?
Nicola Horlick: Money&Co. is a lending platform. So what we are doing is connecting individuals who have cash and want a better rate of interest on that cash, with companies, good quality companies that need to borrow in order to grow. We are focusing very heavily on asset-backed loans currently, so we’re doing lots of property-backed loans because I want to make sure that we preserve capital. It’s very uncertain what the future is going to be for the UK currently because of Brexit. I have no idea what’s going to happen and so I’m trying to play it safe and so property is the best thing to lend against – that sector is the best place to lend to because we’ve got proper security but we’re also looking to lend against pieces of equipment – do purchase agreements and leases. For example, we might purchase a dental suite for a dentist and that seems to me like a good thing to fund because the dentist can’t operate without the dental suite and so they’re going to do everything they can to make sure they make their payments on time. So its lending in the most secure way that we possibly can and in a low-risk way but getting a good return.
Intelligenthq: So you are focusing on small businesses?
Nicola Horlick: Yes. On average our yield from our loans is just over 8% and we take 1% fees. So our investors are getting 7% and they can put they’re loans now in an Individual Savings Account (ISA). There used to be just 2 types of ISA: a Cash ISA, which banks usually provide, and a Stocks and Shares ISA, and now there’s a third type of ISA called an Innovative Finance ISA. People can put our loans into an Innovative Finance ISA and they can get the 7% yield (after deduction of our fee) completely tax-free. So that’s really attractive because Cash ISA’s yield 1% and our ISA is yielding 7% and that’s a huge difference. At the moment there is £270 billion in the UK invested in Cash ISAs yielding very little so our target it to get as much of that £270 billion into our ISA as possible. And then, we also have just launched an inheritance tax product as well where people can put our loans in a company and then, as long as they own the company for more than 2 years before they die, then that all falls outside their estate and they don’t pay inheritance tax which saves their families 40%, so that’s wonderful. So we can use these loans in different ways, package them in different ways to help people mitigate tax and also, just getting the 7% year in year out is a very good yield and especially as interest rates remain very low.
Intelligenthq: Exactly, yes.
Nicola Horlick: We’re doing two things, we’re finding the people with cash that need a better return and we’re finding the good quality loans to invest in.
Intelligenthq: it’s more based to UK and property in the UK?
Nicola Horlick: We are also lending to a UK company that develops residential property in Germany. All the other loans are to help UK businesses to grow here. The film business, I set up and launched in 2011 so we’ve been going for 7 years and we’ve developed slates of films and we now have 16 films and another potentially 2, so 16-18 films in the slate. All the scripts have been written so we are now moving to the production phase. I was in LA last week working on one of our films which is a music-driven project and I was talking to a songwriter who won 8 grammys who hopefully is going to get involved in the project, because if its music driven it’s important to have really good music people involved!
Intelligenthq: So you are quite involved with the film company as well.
Nicola Horlick: Yes I am. And it’s in a different time zone. Its LA rather than here. I’ve got 3 business partners in LA, and I’m here, but I go to LA a lot.
Intelligenthq: I know that you’ve been a supporter of a lot of charities, like the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Nicola Horlick: That’s because my eldest daughter had leukaemia when she was 2 and she died when she was 12 and in fact last year was the 20th anniversary of her death . Georgie would be 32 if she was still alive. She was treated at Great Ormond Street and she actually died there. So, that means that I’ve been involved with a lot of leukaemia and cancer charities.
At the moment I’m working with the UCL Cancer Institute and in fact my husband got diagnosed with cancer in September and we’ve been having a bit of a hard time lately because he had very advanced prostate cancer but fortunately he is responding very well to treatment and they have managed to push the cancer back for the time being.
As a result of having been touched by cancer rather more than I would have liked, that’s why I’ve been involved with cancer charities. I was also involved with the redevelopment of the West Wing of Bart’s hospital which we converted into a breast cancer centre which is now one of the top centres in Europe and I helped raise money to rebuild the leukaemia centre at the Hammersmith Hospital. I‘ve done lots of work with Great Ormond Street over the years and now UCL and also the Leukaemia Research Fund which is now called the Bloodwise I think – I used to do a lot of work with them years ago as well.
I also helped raise a lot of money for Oxford University because I went to Oxford and I was co-Chair of the campaign board for my college. We had a big anniversary, the 750th anniversary of our college. We did a 5-year campaign with the aim of raising £30m which is a lot for one college. We actually raised £33m so that was good, we came in above target.
Intelligenthq: It has been stated that your approach to banking and doing business in general, is based in nurturing. A very different way of engaging with business, which is very different from the masculine approach…
Nicola Horlick: Exactly. I think it’s a natural thing, because women are made to nurture and I think when I went to the City, women were trying to emulate men, they were acting very harshly, talking in lower voices, wearing power suits, and that’s not how women are. I strongly feel that we should be ourselves. One of Harriet Harman’s great quotes is that if it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, we would not have had the financial crisis. I think that’s true because testosterone leads men to do all sorts of wild things and be very aggressive and women are not made like that. We are softer and I think that the best companies are those companies where you’ve got both – where you’ve got the go-getting hardcore aggression of men, but you temper that with the nurturing approach of women.
The workplace has changed a lot since I started 36 years ago. 36 years ago, all organisations were very hierarchical. Over time, organisational structures have become much flatter and team-oriented, and women are very good team players, and very good leaders of teams. I think the workplace is more suited now to our skills.
I think the good news is that women can now be women. Maybe it’s a little bit different in something like engineering, I don’t know – I’m not an engineer, but I think that if you’re a female in a very male dominated environment it is difficult. But then I’ve been in a very male-dominated environment my entire career, and the reason I have succeeded is because I have played to my strengths and one of my great strengths is that I am good at nurturing. I have had 6 children after all. I’ve very much used the skills that I have acquired from being a parent, a mother, in the way I manage businesses. I don’t read business books or management books ever. I use my skills that I’ve acquired through being a parent. I actually became a parent when I was 25 so I was relatively young and with children you need certain boundaries, and with people in businesses you need to do the same. Everybody needs to know what their role is and they need to know how far they can go.
I mentioned earlier that one of things I hated about working for big banks was the politics. It comes from the top. You need to say “I will not tolerate politics” in this organisation. If you say that, then people behave properly towards each other. If you indulge in politics, if you have favourites, then the organisation will ultimately be second rate or fail. As I said, I’ve got 6 children. All of them have said to me at one stage or another “you love me best Mummy don’t you?” and I always say “I love you all the same” and they don’t believe me and I always say “No, I love you the same”. There are different aspects of them that I love, if you see what I mean. Some of them are more companionable than others … you know… I love them in slightly different ways maybe but I love them equally. I try to be very even-handed with people that work with me as well. I don’t go off with one of them to have lunch every day. I would never ever do that. I have always been slightly detached and not favoured anybody and tried to treat them all equally. So if I’m going to have lunch with some people, I’m going to have lunch with all of them over time.
Intelligenthq: Do you think your parenting skills provided you with some resources for better managing people?
Nicola Horlick: I think if you’re a manager you’re basically a talent spotter. That’s what you are. You also need to allow people to develop their talents. One of the great strengths of Warburgs was that they took young people and gave them responsibility. That is how I managed to become very senior very fast, and I’ve always done the same. The guy who’s running Money&Co. day-to-day at the moment is only 25. He’s very young, but very talented. I’ve given him more and more leeway over the last 2 years and he is repaying me by helping to take the business forward. He has so much more energy than me. I’m 58, I don’t have as much energy anymore and I’m tired today because I’ve just come back from LA and I’m jet lagged. He’s got a huge amount of energy, and I think that the great success of Warburgs was recognising that young people have lots of energy and great ideas, and if you give them space, but make sure you’re overseeing them properly, then you will have a very successful business.
Sigmund Warburg came from Germany and set up Warburgs post-war and there was Rothschilds and all these very old banking dynasties in the City, and Warburgs went from nowhere to being the No. 1 bank by the time I was there in the 1980s. Everyone acknowledged it was the No.1 bank and that happened because it was different and entrepreneurial and employed very talented people with different backgrounds. I remember I went to final interviews at Barings, Rothschilds and Warburgs, and at Barings and Rothschilds I was the only girl. There were 10 people being interviewed and I was the only girl. The other 9 had all been to Winchester and Eton and Oxford and Cambridge. When I went to Warburgs, there were equal numbers of men and women and this was in the early 1980s. They came from all over the world. There were people from India and Canada and Australia and Denmark and some people just had an undergraduate degree and some had MBAs and some had PhDs. It was a wide range of different people with different skills but what they all shared was that they were incredibly talented. They then selected from this wide pool and there were several women and lots of people who came from Canada and Germany and Denmark as well. I could immediately see, even though I was relatively young, I could see why Warburgs had been so successful – because it was just so different to the others. That was why it was so successful.
Intelligenthq: Can you talk about what has changed in the Banking and Finance industry over the past decade ?
Nicola Horlick: It’s a massive industry now. It’s so much bigger than when I started and it’s very vital to Britain. Financial services is a big part of our economy. Brexit is a big threat, so God knows what will happen if we crash out without a deal. I hope there will be a deal, but if it doesn’t happen, I hope that we will have another referendum and I hope that we will remain in the EU ultimately. I think that’s getting more and more likely as the days go by.
I think finance is an industry we should be very proud of. There is quite a lot of animosity towards it because of the banking crisis and also because of the high pay but I think that people need to be rational about this. It is very vital to our economy. We wouldn’t be the 5th largest economy in the world if we weren’t so good at financial services. London is still the financial services centre of the world and it will stay that way, whatever happens with Brexit. I am very privileged to have played a small part in all that, and I still believe we’re incredibly good at it and we’re very creative and we will continue to do well.
Intelligenthq: What do think about Bitcoin and crypto economics? You were a bit sceptical no?
Nicola Horlick: I remain very sceptical about Bitcoin because there is nothing behind it. When you analyse a sovereign currency, you’ve got the economy to look at, interest rate levels and all these things to tell you if a currency is overvalued or undervalued. With Bitcoin, the only argument is that there will be a limited number of coins issued over time. Frankly, that’s nonsense and at the end of the day it’s about demand and whether there are more sellers or buyers. Clearly there are more sellers than buyers currently and that is why the price has gone down so much. If you’ve only got the argument that supply is limited to support it, that creates huge volatility and there’s nothing to really underpin it.
Security tokens, I do believe have a future. They could be a hugely useful thing to me in the management of alternative assets. Something like gold or real estate or infrastructure or private equity investments or venture investments, these are all things that would benefit from tokenisation because then liquidity could be provided. The current lack of liquidity puts a lot of investors off investing in these areas.
Take the case of insurance companies: insurance companies have very strict solvency rules now, even stricter than they used to be, which makes it impossible for an insurance company to invest in a private equity fund currently. But if you could invest in a private equity fund by buying a token, and the token was listed on a recognised exchange and there were market makers, then those tokens could be very useful for giving exposure to those alternative asset classes to insurance companies and also to private individuals so I think there’s a real opportunity there for investors.
But it’s a bit chicken and egg. You’ve got to have proper exchanges, you’ve got to have buy-in from the big banks, they’ve got to be prepared to make markets in the tokens, and then you’ve got to have Security Token Offerings sponsored by banks, so it’s all going to take a bit of time. But, potentially, it could be a really good thing. So that’s where I really see the opportunity for financial services.
There’s also the application of blockchain technology in terms of security and in banking. I’m sure that there is definitely an opportunity to use Blockchain technology in banking, and all the banks are looking at it and are thinking about using it. But in terms of cryptocurrency, just the Bitcoin and Ethereum thing, I think all of that is nonsense. And there’s a lot of criminal money, so it’s difficult for institutional investors to get behind it.
Intelligenthq: And also there is some issues the environment as well isn’t there? Bitcoin needs lots of electricity for example…
Nicola Horlick: Yes, the amount of electricity being used to do the mining is unacceptably high.
Intelligenthq: There is a theory looking at blockchain/cryptoeconomics in a more philosophical way, that views crypto-economics/blockchain as bringing forward a completely new type of view of money which is both global and local and that facilitates the building of a different type of economics.
Nicola Horlick: Yes but how do you analyse that. You have to price it somehow. When you are looking at the pound or the dollar, you’re looking at how the underlying economy is doing and where interest rates are going. When interest rates are going up, that leads to a strengthening of the currency and when they’re going down, the currency might be weaker, so there are fundamentals which we can analyse and as an investment professional, that’s what I do. The idea that you’ve got something where the only fundamental is that the supply is limited, that just isn’t good enough.
It’s too risky to put money into something like that, as has been shown. Just before Christmas in 2017, I sent an email to all of my children because they’d all been buying cryptocurrencies, and I told them “Sell it all now. This is a bubble. It will burst and you will lose all your money”. They did not listen of course.
There is no AML process and its not going to be legitimised. It’s not going to be brought into the institutional world, so it’s going to stay as something that’s quite peripheral I think. Now whether those platforms that have been created can be used for something else, security tokens or whatever, maybe so, but you have to have something backing a currency. Gold used to be used to back fiat currencies for example. The US then decided to remove the gold standard and then other countries followed suit over time. Some went one step futher and gradually reduced their gold reserves and investors and traders began to rely more on what was going on in the economy and with the interest rates. If you’ve got nothing backing a currency, it seems to me that it makes it a very dangerous, volatile piece of paper or electronic whatever. The technology I think is interesting. The actual Blockchain.
Intelligenthq: Yes with its security…
Nicola Horlick: Yes, the security it offers could be very helpful. For example, a large British company recently had a data breach and I’ve had fraud on both my personal credit card and my corporate one in the last few days and it’s just hopeless that a company of that size cannot protect our data. It’s getting serious now, these criminals are getting more and more sophisticated and security is a big, big issue. Blockchain may well be a solution for banks and for big corporations because one way of looking at it is you’re creating a secure little box each time you create a part of the chain, and it’s very difficult to hack into it, and that is a useful thing. It can be used in all sorts of scenarios and environments.
Intelligenthq: What is your opinion about Gender Lens investment?
Nicola Horlick: Gender Lens investing? There are organisations in the US such as CalPers that have been supporting women-led businesses for years and personally I am not very keen on doing things because of gender. So I am not in favour of positive discrimination when selecting directors for the board for example. I would rather be asked to do something because the people think I am good at what I do not just because I am a woman. So I don’t agree with positive discrimination as a means of getting more female involvement in companies. I think that we’ve made huge progress over my career, and things have changed dramatically. You need only look around here in my office building – there are women everywhere. These are small businesses. In each office at least half the people are women.
Intelligenthq: But there is still a gender gap in pay…
Nicola Horlick: Well it’s up to women to demand more. I know from having run very large businesses that the guys would be lobbying me constantly about their pay and the girls wouldn’t bother. They don’t ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I mean I always made sure they were treated equally, but in most organisations it tends to be ‘he who shouts loudest gets the most’. I mean it’s just not naturally in our psyche. Women tend not to have the self-confidence and also don’t really believe in themselves and have low self-worth. This all comes back to how we bring up our girls. We need to bring up our girls to be as self-confident as our boys as a society. I have tried to do that. And fortunately my girls seem to be more self-confident than most. We all need to be doing that. We all need to be telling our girls that they can be just as good as their brothers.
Intelligenthq: You have 3 girls and 2 boys right?
Nicola Horlick: Yes, well originally I had 4 girls but now yes, I have 3 girls and 2 boys. One runs her own business and has her own handbag brand being sold internationally. The next one down is a doctor. The next one down is a computer scientist, he’s a boy. The first two are girls and he’s a boy. The next one down is a girl and she’s at university in Los Angeles and then the youngest one is a boy and he is having a gap year and will be going to university in the autumn. I can see that my boys naturally believe in themselves more. Boys tend to have great self-belief. Even if it isn’t merited. And girls, my third daughter who’s the doctor has always been very self-deprecating, has never really believed in herself and she actually got a first-class degree and lots of university prizes when she did biomedical science and she did medicine and she did brilliantly well at that and she’s just super clever. Now she wants to be a surgeon, so she has to take the surgeon’s exam, and it’s all going to take years, but she’s determined to do it. She’s a junior doctor now and in a hospital setting, it’s very fraught and she has to do nights and it’s very hard work. But she’s determined to do it. So obviously I’ve encouraged her as much as I can and pushed her as much as I can. I think the next generation of mothers and the next generation of daughters will just expect that girls will go to university and that they will have a career. It’s not even that long ago though that fewer girls went to university than boys.
When I went to Oxford, it was the first year that my college had taken women. In 1979, I was the first year of women in my college. The college was founded 756 years ago by a man and a woman and it took until 1979 to admit women. But because prior to 1979, there were a large number of men’s colleges and a small number of women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, that meant that the vast majority of graduates up until 1979 were men. And since they were the people that went on to run the country and run a lot of big businesses and legal firms, that is part of the reason why there aren’t that many women at the top. It takes time. If they only started in 1979 and it wasn’t 50/50 then – in my college there were 550 men and 23 women when I went – then it is still going to take a couple of decades to see more women at the top.
And even now it’s not quite 50/50 because they don’t get enough applications from women because they don’t think they are good enough to apply to the more prestigious colleagues at Oxford. Senior women need to encourage young girls to aim high. We used to discuss this at my college and I said we needed to hire an outreach person and we needed to send them out to girls schools and tell them why they should apply to Balliol College which we do now. They’re intimidated by it. They’re scared of applying and if they don’t apply, they can’t go there. So we still have a long way to go, but a lot of it is to do with psychology, getting women to believe in themselves.
And that comes back to parenting. I think it’s really particularly important for fathers to tell their daughters that they can do it because that’s why I succeeded. My father always told me that I could do anything my brother could. He actually took me away from the girls’ school and sent me to the boys’ school (the boys’ school was taking a small number of sisters) because he didn’t want me to do cookery and knitting, he wanted me to do science and Latin. Because I went to the boys’ school that meant I was doing French at 6 and Latin at 8 and Greek at 9 and science all the way through. I wouldn’t have been doing that if I had gone to the girls’ school. It’s important to aim high. Whenever I go to speak to sixth form girls or girls in university, I always tell them to aim high.
Intelligenthq: Yes. As for myself also I really enjoy this idea of the bridging the wisdom of the feminine with the masculine in work places, for example what you told me before, how you as a woman working in banking in the eighties were not imitating men, but acknowledging your own feminine qualities.
Nicola Horlick: And that was novel. I remember when I went to Morgan Grenfell I was the first female director of Morgan Grenfell as well and there was another woman who was very senior in the organization and she was hoping to make it to the main board and I came in over her head and then she left. And I thought that was a stupid thing to do. Why didn’t she stay and wait for a bit then she would have been the second female director instead of which she thought “How dare they bring another woman in and promote over me?”
Intelligenthq: She took it personally…
Nicola Horlick: So there’s still a long way to go. But it’s fantastically better than it was. But that then causes issues because if people are being educated and then working really hard, they’ve got to remember to have babies. I had my first baby when I was 25. I have three daughters aged 30, 28 and 22. The 30 y/o is engaged and getting married this year, the 28 y/o is also engaged and getting married next year. The 30 y/o has said that she does not want any children and would rather focus on her handbag business. The 28 y/o is saying “I would like to have children but I’m really worried about how I’m going to be a surgeon and have these babies” and I said it was fine, I’d help look after them. Fertility when you get to 32 starts to fall off a cliff and that’s not very old, 32. So there are major serious implications here about children and fertility.
Intelligenthq: And that’s one of the many reasons that make women hold back from focusing fully in their careers…
Nicola Horlick: Yes because women are actually supposed to have babies in our late teens and early 20s. Not when you’re 40.
Intelligenthq: Yes, but in your case you had 6 children! The media called you “superwoman”…
Nicola Horlick: Yes, I just went ahead anyway.
Intelligenthq: And you were still able to juggle both work and family.
Nicola Horlick: My body told me “have a baby”, so I had a baby. A lot of people are trying to fight that, and actually I don’t think you should fight it because it’s more important to have children. And it’s possible to do both. But it’s hard. I was very lucky in that firstly, property in London was much cheaper then so I could live right in the centre of London. Also, I was very senior early in my career so I was able to afford childcare and a nanny. Also my mother was in her 40s when I had my first child so I had her there. And my brother is a professional musician and he worked strange hours. So he was around when I needed him. I needed a lot of support because Geogie fell sick when she was 2 with leukaemia. So not only was I trying to deal with children at work, but also with a very serious illness. So I was lucky that my family was very nearby and very supportive. My mother was actually in Cheshire. My parents lived in Cheshire which is a long way away but they used to come down because I could afford to have a large house and I had a proper guest room and they could stay for a week at a time. Or they could take my children up to Cheshire with them.
Intelligenthq: And besides working, you were also having to handle the hard situation of having a sick child. That is also very tough …
Nicola Horlick: Yes. When I was 28, I thought I was the mistress of the universe. I was a director at Warburgs, I had a huge Mercedes car, I was being paid a vast amount of money for my age and I had a huge house and I just thought that everything I touched would turn to gold. Then suddenly I was told that my daughter had leukaemia. It was like my world was coming to an end. It never occurred to me that I would have a sick child. It just never occurred to me. And that was a big wake-up call. So yes, it did change my life very fundamentally, and it has defined my life in many ways. With Georgie, it was a sense of desperation. I have to do everything I can’t save this child. A child is a part of you and it’s not natural for your child to predecease you. It creates a sense of desperation and intense anxiety and I cannot describe how awful it is to get through. I had to suffer that, we as a family we had to suffer that for 10 years. We were on this emotional rollercoaster.
And then the thing about grief is that different people go through grief in different ways. When we were going through the illness, we were all bound together and we were going on a journey, which was determined by what the doctors told us in terms of really positive news or really negative news, so we were all elated or in the depths of despair. Whereas with grief, you wake up one morning and you’re feeling a little bit better but the person next to you who is the father of your child feels terrible that day. And you just feel this disconnect that you’re suddenly on your own. That’s why a lot of marriages then break up because you just feel lonely and adrift as though you’ve been cut loose and you’re drifting off in different directions. And I would never have wanted to get a divorce, but my husband couldn’t cope with the whole thing and he looked at me every day and it reminded him of the horror of the whole thing and he just needed to start again which was very sad.
Nicola Horlick: My daughter was the one at the centre of the whole thing. I mean, she was incredibly brave. She was the bravest person I’ve ever met in my entire life. She never complained. She might have had the most horrendous night, troubled, diarrhoea and just being really ill, and the doctor would come in and say, “Georgie how are you?” and she would say, “I’m fine”. And I would say, “No, no, no, she’s not fine. This happened and that happened and she had a terrible time”. But she just was so positive. At the very end, two weeks before she died, she told me she didn’t want to live anymore and I got really angry and I thought “How could you say that! After everything that we’ve been through.” And she said “My quality of life is so terrible I just don’t want to live anymore”. She sort of just basically gave up. She didn’t want to be here. And I had to respect that. Obviously when I was crying, I was crying for me I knew that she was a lot happier when she left. But I also knew that I’m going to see her again one day. I didn’t used to believe that because I am very pragmatic and logical and didn’t believe in an afterlife, but I now do believe very strongly because a lot of things have happened to me that made me realise that Georgie was still around, and I know that I’m going to see her again.
So it’s weird, we don’t understand, we don’t have comprehension and we have no idea about even how we got here and how the Universe was created. Plus, part of our problem is we think in terms of beginnings and ends. If you think in terms of circles, then it’s easier to comprehend. There is no beginning and there is no end.
We’re here to learn lessons, and we need to learn those lessons. My father always said “When you are on your deathbed and you can say I behaved well towards people and I behaved properly, that’s the most important thing in life.” And it is the most important thing in life. Be a good person, be kind to people and do the best you can. Do as much as possible. Have as few enemies as possible.
It’s not always possible to have no enemies. I seem to attract conflict for some reason. People attack me the whole time. It’s very bizarre, I don’t really understand why, but if there is conflict, I do my best to overcome it.
Intelligenthq: Yes we feel some guilt. But that’s a bit our minds playing the games also.
Nicola Horlick: I’ve never felt guilty, by the way, about working. Because people say, “Oh, as a mother I felt really guilty about going to work”. I’ve absolutely never felt guilty.
Intelligenthq: Working mothers are actually giving a good role model to our kids isn’t it?
Nicola Horlick: I know that if I had stayed at home doing nothing, I would have been horrible. I would have been so frustrated doing nothing. I’m sure I would have done some voluntary work or something, I would have found something, but I would have been very unhappy, and that would have been bad for my children.
Intelligenthq: And again, working moms, we’re giving role models to our kids, to our girls. Successful women that also work and participate in the economy. A difference that doesn’t mean that moms at home are not being a great role model but…
Nicola Horlick: Yes well when I talked to Alice, who is my second daughter, the handbag designer, she sees me as a role model, she’s very pleased that I worked. Her only issue is about childcare. She didn’t like our first nanny who we had for 10 years and she feels it was detrimental to her to have her as her nanny. She was 10 years older than me, that nanny, and she was a very strict English nanny. But my view is that it’s actually quite good for them to have a strict English nanny. It was important for them to have structure and continuity in their lives, especially given Georgie’s illness.
Intelligenthq: Well kids always complain…
Nicola Horlick: But that’s her only thing. She says, “I didn’t like that nanny”
Intelligenthq: So you are quite close with your kids then?
Nicola Horlick: Yes I am very close. They’ve all stayed very close to me.
Intelligenthq: Do you have any future plans? What will you do next?
Nicola Horlick: I’m never going to retire. I will work for the whole of my life.
Intelligenthq: Do you have some kind of dream project or idea of future project or are you just focusing on Money&Co.?
Nicola Horlick: Yes Money&Co. has huge potential. It is going really well now and in 3-4 years, we’ll either IPO on the Stock Exchange or we will sell it. And then when I’ve got the proceeds for that, I’ll see what the next thing to do is. Also, I have a business partner who is building an insurance business. He’s buying lots of small insurance businesses and I’m going to manage all the money, the assets for him. So we’ve got an opportunity to create a very valuable asset management business there and then I’ve still got the film stuff going on so now I’ve got plenty to occupy me for the next 20 years, if I live that long.
Intelligenthq: A final question: what is your vision of the world, and its global challenges ahead?
Nicola Horlick: Well I think it’s pretty horrendous what’s going on in the world. Brexit is terrible. The rise of right wing parties in Europe is very worrying. We’ve got to remember that history does often repeat itself, so we just need to be very careful. And popularism and the lack of respect for authority and looking to challenge the establishment all sounds great, but actually in reality it causes chaos. I think probably what will happen is that it will swing back the other way. I fear that Trump will be re-elected. 8 years of Trump. I think hopefully Brexit will fall apart and we won’t leave the EU, that would be good.
Intelligenthq: Thank you for your time!
Maria Fonseca is the Editor and Infographic Artist for IntelligentHQ. She is also a thought leader writing about social innovation, sharing economy, social business, and the commons. Aside her work for IntelligentHQ, Maria Fonseca is a visual artist and filmmaker that has exhibited widely in international events such as Manifesta 5, Sao Paulo Biennial, Photo Espana, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Joshibi University and many others. She concluded her PhD on essayistic filmmaking , taken at University of Westminster in London and is preparing her post doc that will explore the links between creativity and the sharing economy.