Sir Nigel Wilson on failure, leading in crisis and a move into politics

July 21, 2023. Series 7. Episode 69

Nigel Wilson is the Group Chief Executive of Legal & General, the 200-year-old multi-national institution, and is one of Britain’s most acclaimed business leaders.

He joins us to share his remarkable story from a boy raised in a two-bedroom council house in Darlington to now leading a global company managing £1.2 trillion. We learn about what drives him and motivates him, his strategy of ‘inclusive capitalism’ and his invaluable perspective on the economic, political, and commercial crises that dominate our world. A must listen for anyone trying to gain or maintain control of their own business or life.

We speak to Sir Nigel, who is also a masters championship winning runner, before he steps down from the role in January 2024, following a characteristically well-organised succession plan, to then begin the next lap of his life. No doubt to be run at an even faster pace. An unusually candid conversation with a true titan of British business.


Nigel’s Crisis Comforts

  1. Running – with a stopwatch because a stopwatch never lies. It’s just total focus.


  1. Reading – I love reading and learning through reading. My favourite book of all time is still To Kill A Mockingbird because it had such an impact on me.


  1. Live entertainment – I love live entertainment, pretty much any sporting event, anywhere, at any time. Concerts, theatre… watching other people who are brilliant at what they do, having a sense of admiration because they’re better than me and they’re just fantastic to observe.


Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning:

Some Velvet Morning Website:

Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream:


Host: Andy Coulson

CWC production team: Louise Difford and Jane Sankey

With special thanks to Global


Full episode transcript: 

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:00:00] You know, we’ve under invested in the UK on a massive scale for a very long period of time and that’s had a poor outcome for lots of people across the UK and that’s why, Crisis What Crisis? Is a very relevant thing to be talking about right now.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:00:19] Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, then please hit subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening, it really does help make sure that these, I hope useful, conversations are shared as widely as possible.

A very different but valuable perspective on managing crisis in this episode from one of Britain’s most acclaimed business leaders. Sir Nigel Wilson is the Group Chief Executive of Legal & General, the two-hundred year old multi-national financial services and asset management institution. One of those businesses that you think you know, but unless it touches your world you probably don’t.

Legal & General finances key infrastructure from housing to universities, plays a vital role in the UK savings and pensions markets and has over ten-thousand employees.

We like to discuss what drives and motivates our guests on this podcast. Sir Nigel’s journey from a boy raised in a two-bedroom house in Darlington to a man leading a business that manages £1.2 trillion. Well, that’s something we will want to get into this conversation for sure.

As will the Nigel Wilson personal operating system; a system that has also led to him securing a number of national Masters athletics titles, and all whilst raising five daughters.

Sir Nigel has led Legal & General since 2012 and against the backdrop of national and global change and crisis, economic, political and commercial, and along the way has transformed the business. He summarises his strategy as, “Inclusive capitalism, contributing to society, improving the lives of customers, whilst making money for shareholders by investing in assets that benefit everyone, like housing and renewable energy.” How he has done all that in that environment of near-constant change is where I think there will be value for anyone listening to this who might be struggling to gain control of their own business or life.

Unsurprisingly our politicians have often sought Nigel’s counsel, though he has wisely, at least so far, resisted the lure of Westminster, turning down a role as Minister for Innovation last year.

This is a fascinating time to be talking to him, as he will step down from the role in January following a characteristically well-organised succession plan to begin the next lap of his life, no doubt run at an even faster pace.

Sir Nigel Wilson, welcome to Crisis What Crisis.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:02:49] I’m thrilled to be here.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:02:50] How are you?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:02:51] I’m in great form.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:02:52] Good. It’s great to see you. Nigel, given that so many of Legal & General’s businesses can be, are impacted by that economical, political, corporal environment that’s not in your control entirely, are you someone who instinctively sees opportunity or looks for opportunity in crisis?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:03:19] I think both are true, that you have to have your north star of where you want to get to, and I have a strong belief that inclusive capitalism is the best way to go, sort of drives it. But you do go off on sort of mini-panic to mini-panic with periodic crises in that, and if you recognise that that’s going to happen you do build up a resilience towards that and you do see things almost in slow motion. Whilst there’s chaos all around you, you’re trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do and make sure you behave accordingly.

And so I never get rattled by that, I’m not somebody who is a shouter or a- I do believe in the theatre of management, but that it’s actually to be yourself all the time.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:04:05] Theatre of management, I’m interested in talking about that. But what about the opportunity bit? When that stuff is swirling around are you looking for- not just to get through, or not just looking for the means by which you might be able to build the business’s resilience, but are you looking for opportunity?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:04:25] Yes. One of the great things- tiny insights can really transform businesses, and our insight was, you know, London was on its knees in the 1970s, and from the 1980s onwards it’s become a very successful city, and it’s disproportionately successful compared to the rest of the UK.

So our insight if you like was why can’t all the other towns and cities be on a similar track? And actually when we went round and visited them we saw there was chronic under-investment for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, but they had local political leaders who put people, place then politics. And it was actually the fact that you could interact with the mayors, the chief executives of the councils, the vice chancellors of the university, who had ambitions beyond their financial capability. What we brought to it was a sense of commercialism and also of financial capability, to allow people to execute what was their visions in many instances but actually-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:05:21] So you saw an opportunity.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:05:22] Saw a massive opportunity, yes. We’ve spent thirty or forty billion on this opportunity so far, with a lot more in the hopper, and it’s been a great journey. It’s been an emotional journey for our colleagues as well, because you can do a very complicated financial deal or some brilliant trading strategy and make some money, or you can help transform Cardiff and Salford and Newcastle and Sunderland, where when you go and see what we’ve done it’s a very, very powerful, emotional message to people. Because they physically see it and they physically see the difference it makes. And they see real jobs being paid real wages in the real economy.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:06:03] So how much of that is you? Obviously, you’ve got an amazing team, and one of your key skills is being able to build such an impressive, talented team. But the kind of opportunity bit, is that an instinctive thing for you, really is what sits behind the question?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:06:19] No, it’s analytical, I’m a deeply analytical person but I’m a people person at the same time and you know, you can walk round and see things. Brexit is a good example. I thought that the probability of Brexit happening was much higher than the politicians in London. I was on David Cameron’s Prime Minister’s business council at the time, and I expressed that view. Because I said, “I’m in and around the country probably more than anyone, and-”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:06:47] At what point did you reach that view, out of interest?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:06:49] Very early on.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:06:50] When you knew the referendum was coming?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:06:51] Yes, I knew the referendum was coming but wasn’t a fan of having the referendum because actually I thought there was a reasonable probability of it not winning, in a sense that we would exit Europe. And therefore you know, the Prime Minister had already won the referendum in Scotland, it was actually let’s get back to driving economic growth in the UK and accelerating the things that I think needed doing in the UK. Which is you know, we’ve under-invested in the UK on a massive scale for a very long period of time, and that’s had a poor outcome for lots of people across the UK. And that’s why Crisis What Crisis? is a very relevant thing to be talking about right now.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:07:31] So the other side of the opportunity coin I suppose is the word ‘risk’.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:07:35] Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:07:36] What’s your relationship like with risk?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:07:38] Well, there are two things about risk.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:07:40] As a leader, I mean.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:07:41] Yes. As a leader I have hundreds of people who are obsessed with risk. So they go home worrying about risk and as a consequence of that I don’t have to, because actually I think we’re trying to take on informed and rewarded risk. So choosing what we’re not going to do is just as important as choosing what we are going to do. And so many businesses massively under-perform by choosing the wrong things at the wrong time.

And I had same failures early in my career which were great lessons. Success is a poor teacher but you really learn a lot from failure. When I was working for Dixons our acquisition strategy like every other UK retailer failed in America. We haven’t really had a UK retailer be successful. Sainsburys, Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Dixons all failed, our brewing companies failed, car companies never got growing, the banking sector failed.

And so I learned a lot from that, and so when we went to America we went very quietly, very organically building with a long-term view very much at heart. We weren’t trying to knock the ball out of the park in America in a way that other companies had tried to do, other British companies had tried to do.

So learning from the failure of others was really important to me.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:08:57] Does the sort of philosophy that you have around business, I suspect around life, how much of it comes from the upbringing?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:09:08] A lot of it comes from the upbringing.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:09:11] Tell us the story of your background.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:09:15] I grew up in a very loving family. We didn’t have any money, which was a good thing in one sense. So my wider family all got involved in me because I was the first child, grandchild, great-grandchild, first of everything, first to go to grammar school. But everybody helped, and everybody read with me when I was young, taught me maths when I was young, played dominoes and cards.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:09:42] What did your mum and dad do?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:09:44] My dad worked as a purchasing manager, left school at 16 but with some O-levels. And my mum worked in a local factory, twilight shift, six until ten. And you know, they really did their best for me growing up.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:09:59] Brothers and sisters?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:10:00] Two sisters, who never went to university because my parents didn’t believe in it. I went to university, they didn’t go to university, so it was- but they’re very happy. I was with them this weekend when I popped back up to see my mum and family and friends. They are happy.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:10:17] When you say your parents didn’t believe in it?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:10:20] They thought, you know, women get married early and have children.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:10:23] But for you it was different?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:10:24] Totally different, totally different. But I was very self-motivated to do stuff. If I wanted any money- I got up at five-thirty every morning to do two paper rounds before I went to school, because if I wanted money I had to go out and make it. I still get up at five-thirty to this day, it’s been a very long habit of mine.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:10:47] It’s just now slightly more productive.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:10:49] Yes, yes. I do start work at five-thirty but I don’t send any emails until at least six.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:10:58] Yes, yes.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:10:59] When I explain that to people they often give me funny looks, but it’s the operation. I do the same at weekends as well, I try and work on a Saturday or Sunday morning, a little bit on a Sunday night, and do a lot of reading.

I had great teachers then. This was the time of when- we moved into a relatively new council house, we eventually got central heating in the house. We went to a new school, I went to a lovely grammar school, and my teachers, Mr Dobson, Mr Wharton, Miss Robbins, Mr Feather and whatever, I now can call them, you know, Les and Fred.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:11:36] Yes, you’re still in touch?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:11:38] I’m still in touch with these people. Because-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:11:41] Because you go back quite frequently, don’t you?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:11:43] I go back probably at least ten times a year, partly to support my champions league coming football team-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:11:51] I wondered how long it would take you to mention Newcastle.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:11:53] Yes, not long. But I really enjoy the people up there, and spending time. And I feel as though we’re making a difference to Newcastle and Sunderland in particular through the business, and I was almost the poster-child of social mobility. You know, grew up in a council estate, eventually went to MIT to do a PhD, Kennedy Scholar, etc etc. But it was because I had intellectual curiosity and intellectual honesty. I was very- still am very curious, I still love learning.

But it was, “Tell me what you think, not what you think I want to hear,” and I certainly did that with my teachers, who remember me, and the same at university. And the same right now. It’s always been intellectually honest.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:12:42] Can you trace that back to any particular conversations with a particular teacher? Are there moments in your mind where you think, “Yes, that was a-”?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:12:50] I think I got a lot of that from my grandmother. My grandmother was very- I lived with her for a little while with my mum and dad and spent a lot of time with her, and she always used to tell me that I was a kind and generous person but I wasn’t forgiving. I’d have to learn to be more forgiving and more empathetic. I finally realised that empathy has a ‘y’ at the end and not an ‘i’. I’ve learned to spell it, I’ve got to get better at using it.

And part of it was- when I read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was quite young, Atticus’ thing of you’ve got to walk around in the other guy’s shoes, when he’s talking about Boo Radley, that really resonated with me, is that to try and understand other people better and look at things through their perspective when you’re talking with them or engaging with them.

I had a long chat with- on my Kennedy Scholarship, with Isiah Berlin, and he was saying that- we talked about the search for the truth for the common good, which was kind of what I think inclusive capitalism and the way I want to run the business is, is actually just tell me the truth and we can sort out the problem. If you don’t tell the truth then it gets very difficult to solve things. And so therefore having a good view of what the situational analysis is allows you to develop better solutions.

And crisis is going to come and go all the time, don’t panic. It is a Corporal Jones moment, you know, don’t panic. Really stand back off it and think about, “What’s the role I have to play to make sure we deliver a good outcome?” And be seen, particularly in adverse times, for a business, to be in charge but give everybody around you confidence that you are in charge and you do know what you’re doing. I think that’s always been a part of my style.

It’s like when I played soccer, I loved taking penalties. I probably wasn’t the best penalty taker, certainly in practice, but under match stressful conditions I would get the ball and take the penalties.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:15:00] You had hopes that you might make it as a footballer.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:15:03] Oh gosh, you know. When Callum Wilson was looking injured, the Wison No. 9 shirt, I thought they were going to give me a call. I was on the bench. I can kick the ball in from six yards still, not sure about outside the box.

But yes, and I think you know, you grow up in that community where people want you to be a footballer, and there was a wonderful moment when my father was at the pub and said, “I know some of you are disappointed that Nigel hasn’t become a footballer, but let me tell you he’s just been awarded a scholarship, the Kennedy Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” And the lads looked up from dominoes and went, “Tech? He’s going to Tech in some place called Massachusetts? Why can’t he go to Darlo just down the road?” So it was a massive deflation, it was like, sit down-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:15:47] Deflation and back to the dominoes.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:15:49] Back to the dominoes, back to the dominoes. And that’s, you know-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:15:52] Feet on the ground.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:15:53] Yes, keep your feet on the ground around all this sort of stuff.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:15:57] But you are a poster-child for social mobility in this country, but it can’t all have been easy. There must have been moments of resistance. You know, you’re painting a picture here of shiny new doors swinging open wherever you went. I suspect that is not the reality.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:16:17] No, I think, you know, I was disappointed not to be a footballer. When your parents and all your friends and family think you’re going to be a footballer, if not you’re going to be an athlete, and I just wasn’t quite good enough at any of those things and therefore-

And I was very small, as well. I grew a lot when I was about seventeen or eighteen, but by that time I’d realised that a different academic was looming ahead of me and that I should seize that opportunity. And my professors at university, Alec Chrystal, Roy Bailey I’m also allowed to call them by their first names now, and Mona Chatterjee, were all great mentors of mine. You know, they just singled me out as-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:17:01] This is when you’re on the path. But getting onto that path-

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:17:05] I think it was almost the enthusiasm.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:17:07] You obviously had the teachers who- the encouragement of a loving family, teachers who recognised how bright you were, unusually bright I suspect in that environment, I don’t know, you’ll tell me. But even with those advantages and even with that encouragement there’s still an awful lot of work to be done, right, to keep you going? But really, no resistance?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:17:34] I have not felt any resistance. Statistics say there’s resistance there but I got through it all, and I was very driven to succeed and focus on that, and through hard work. And to this day I don’t know anybody who is successful who doesn’t work really hard, whether that’s a sports person, we all know about the ten thousand hours, or the musicians or whatever. You might get one lucky break and be a- and I think that can happen, but that statistically might not be the right outcome.

And therefore people look at the, you know, “I could be a footballer like him. I played on the same team as him. I was at college studying at the- JK Rowling was a friend of mine twenty-five years ago.” But when you find out their real narrative, an enormous amount of hard work went into it. And I realised that very early on, and there was that work ethic that I had from a very young child just to focus on what needed doing and just try my best.

And so you know, be very disappointed if you don’t win stuff, but actually always come off feeling as though you did give it your best shot. And I got a lot better at that as I got older and realised actually there’s a very high correlation between how hard you train and what’s the outcome. I have a longer expression, but ‘poor preparation produces poor performance’, and that’s something I still believe in. My children will tell you they virtually had t-shirts with that written on. It’s all the time, because every set in every session of every training session really matters.

When you look at the pros, that’s what they do. And you can watch them warming up in training or whatever, they really take things incredibly seriously because it matters. And I think as you get older you realise all this stuff matters and therefore prepare properly for everything.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:19:37] Academia was your likely career path, that’s certainly what you thought and felt as a younger man. Essex University Economics degree, and then as you mention, on to MIT to work on your PhD. It’s not a well-trodden path, that.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:19:55] It’s not a well-trodden path.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:19:57] What was the kind of sliding door moment when you were at uni in Essex that led to MIT?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:20:04] I’d got several great mentors, and by that time I’d got- I was very computer literate, very maths literate, and worked very closely with the professors on lots of stuff. And they said, “You should go to MIT,” and again, it was just an amazing opportunity, put yourself forward.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:20:26] That’s not a sentence they would have uttered very often prior to saying it to you.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:20:30] No.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:20:31] What is it they saw?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:20:32] They liked me, apart from anything else. And so it was this sort of, you know, a real trier who’s clever, and so they set in motion this idea that I could get a Kennedy Scholarship and go to MIT, and I did incredibly well when I was there in all the exams. And so for them it was a journey as well, because there’s not many people who have gone down that particular route.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:21:00] You said there, “They liked me.” That’s an interesting thing just to push on a bit. Because you are obviously a- obviously you were an excellent student, but there was something that you were doing in the relationship with those mentors, as you describe them, that kind of inspired them as well.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:21:17] Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:21:18] That’s something presumably that you’ve carried across into your working life.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:21:20] I think so, yes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:21:22] So what is that? How do we describe that? Because that’s useful for other people, right?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:21:26] On both sides, it is having real ambition but not naïve ambition, for working with your teams and colleagues, and when- you know, a few of them have said to me, “When things get really rough and tough and things are hard, we love the fact that you’re here. We love the fact that you’re here and will help us get through to the other side on difficult situations, and that you stay calm and focussed on situations, and you’re not finger pointing and pointing the blame at different people.”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:21:58] That’s later in life. As a student with those mentors deciding, “We’re going to do something we’ve never done before here,” when you look back at your younger self then-

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:22:09] I didn’t know that that was very rare.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:22:12] You were doing something right though. Aside from the hard work, aside from the natural talent, you were doing something right in those relationships.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:22:17] Yes, yes. I think the- lots and lots of people like me, and some people don’t like me. And I accepted from a very early age there was quite a lot of people liked me and some people didn’t like me, and I didn’t spend a huge amount of time on the people who I thought just didn’t like me for the way I am.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:22:37] That’s a remarkable thing for a boy of that age, because how old are you here? You’re in your early twenties.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:22:44] Well, growing up there were some people didn’t like me and they would beat me up. That actually you know, growing up on a council estate which- so you draw these parallels between, these are the guys you want to avoid because they’ll just physically beat you up, and-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:23:01] And that happened with a degree of frequency as a lad?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:23:04] You know, you grow up in those tough council estates, people fight a lot. And so I was very pleased to get out of that sort of-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:23:16] And you were finding yourself in those situations because you were different?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:23:20] I was very good at football, and very small, and quite cocky in those days as well. And so I irritated a lot of people. And I played up several years so I’d play with much bigger kids a lot of the time, and they used to really physically hurt me when we were playing football. And that was part of the reason I got slightly disillusioned at football.

I played against men when I was fifteen, and this was in the good old days. I always remember after about ten minutes I’d been hammered twice in these terrible tackles-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:23:50] What position did you play?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:23:51] I played up front all the time, and so I scored a lot of goals very quick. But somebody then punched me quite hard, and somebody spat on my shirt, and I walked over to the referee and said, “Ref, look what’s happening. You know, I’m a really beautiful player.”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:24:07] I hope you didn’t say, “I’m a really beautiful player.”

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:24:09] I did. I said, “I want to play football, and you’ve got to protect me.” He said, “Son, it’s a man’s game. Get on with it.” So I had to go and pick at some grass and wipe the snot off my shirt and get back to playing with a very heavy ball on a muddy pitch with these thugs.

But that’s just life, get on with it then.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:24:30] So this forms a view quite early in your life that there are people that are not going to like me, and that’s just fine.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:24:38] Just fine.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:24:39] I’m going to focus on those that can help me, on those that I will enjoy and that I can work with, and that I can- much later in your life that in turn you can help.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:24:50] Yes, yes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:24:53] That’s quite an interesting kind of insight.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:24:56] Well, I encourage other people to do that as well. You know, you can’t have blockers and tacklers in your team at work, people who are constantly stopping and- this question of “How can we make the boat go faster?” if you’ve got people rowing in the opposite direction, it just doesn’t work.

And so you know, constructive criticism, or I call it constructive contributions, are really helpful, and so that’s what you want. As opposed to people who can’t be bothered or just think things are terrible ideas or are busy trying to stop things because it doesn’t help them in their particular career, whatever it is.

So don’t surround yourself with negative blockers and tacklers. You do need to have some sort of shared vision that- inclusive capitalism is much better than exclusive capitalism. And being a team player really matters because you want the team to win and you want everybody to feel they’ve made a big contribution.

We’ve just signed a very important deal, the whole team is going out to celebrate the success of it tomorrow night, there’s sixty or seventy people going because they all played a role. And I’ll thank all of them at the same time and I’ll leave early.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:26:11] What’s that about? Leave early so you can let them relax and enjoy themselves?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:26:15] I don’t want to be constantly running around talking to people, I want people to then just fully relax.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:26:24] And enjoy the evening.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:26:25] And enjoy themselves.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:26:26] Will you enjoy that success?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:26:27] I enjoy their success, you see. It’s great when you walk away from stuff like that, and you look back in the room and you see people happy and joyous, enjoying themselves. Then tick, I just feel personally good about that. I don’t have to be in the room with them, and that’s a really good feeling for me because the team’s done well.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:26:53] On the social mobility bit, you’ve talked a lot about that in terms of the levelling up agenda, where we’re heading as a country. Would you characterise the current status around social mobility as a crisis?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:27:07] Yes, on many, many different levels.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:27:11] And you identify the causes? Before we get to the cure, you identify the causes of that?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:27:16] It’s the causes and the situational analysis around it, because there’s terrible education inequality, health inequality, digital inequality, income inequality, wealth inequality right now across that. And so there’s big macro issues to resolve. We had that in the post-war situation I think, where we made big decisions around education and healthcare and lots of other areas. And we’re gradually approaching that point now, when as we were talking before, productivity has flatlined for almost fifteen years now, real wages are less today than they were in 2006, 2007, which- average real wages. And that’s because we haven’t created an economy that’s functioning as well as I think it’s capable of functioning, delivering great outcomes for people.

I think we’ve made some progress, some good progress at Legal & General which I’m very proud of, but it needs to be on a much- it needs another zero. Say we’ve invested thirty to forty billion, it needs to be three hundred to four hundred billion of real investment.

Ironically, we spent four hundred billion during COVID that none of us knew that we had the capacity to spend, including myself.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:28:32] And that left you feeling, “Well then it can be done.”

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:28:33] Well, it left me with the feeling that we could have done something much bigger years ago, and made the UK a great place. I think London is the best city in the world, it really is the best city in the world to live in, and that started in the 1980s. Again, we were trying to mirror that success that London has had for a long period of time, but it’s under pressure itself now. It’s got global competitors, there’s a lot of fragmentation of financial services going on.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:29:05] There’s a drift away from London.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:29:06] There’s a drift. I use the word ‘drift’ a lot. Because you don’t see stuff in the data, you don’t recognise drift until it’s too late often. And part of my job is to stand back off things, look at it and say, “That is drifting, it’s not a step change.”

Again going back to Brexit, I was never a fan of project fear because I thought Brexit would be a gradual decline, not a step change downwards, and that that actually would- so we’d have to really lean in. If Brexit happened we’d have to lean in and really have some new plans so we could cover the shortfall. And let’s say it’s half a percent per annum, which doesn’t sound very much, but over a ten- year period it makes a delta, a very important delta, negative delta on people’s real wages and the real economy.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:29:57] Just to track back to social mobility, presumably you hold the view that it is considerably more difficult for a version of you right now, sat in a house in Darlington, to achieve what you’ve achieved?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:30:15] Yes. I spent eleven years living in Newton Aycliffe going to Stephenson Way school, and I drive my children past and say, “That’s where we grew up. That’s where I grew up and that’s-” you know, they’ve had a totally different backdrop. But I want them to remember there’s somebody in that house who would dream of being me today but has got no chance of doing it because of how far we’ve fallen behind as a society.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:30:42] You characterise it in that way; no chance?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:30:43] No chance. No chance. And there’s a whole bunch of us who I think went through that period of time and were very successful, most of whom my of schoolfriends I’m still friends with, from when we were four and five and so we’re in regular contact with each other, because each phase of my life I’ve figured out-

I think the other big difference I have is this ability to compartmentalise. So I can focus on one thing and then stop and then focus on something totally different and not carry any legacy concerns over that I haven’t quite finished some of that, or there are some things in there I should still worry about. But I’ve got as far as I can and then I’ll move on to something else.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:31:27] Do you worry?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:31:28] I’m not a worrier at all. I worry about my children, and my grandchildren now, but- and they tell me not to worry about them because they’re all grown up and they can sort out their own-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:31:40] So in some of the difficult moments how does that manifest for you?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:31:45] Because I don’t- talking earlier, you know, I’ve got loads of people who are worrying about risk all of the time, and I have my own views and ideas around that sort of stuff. But you won’t see me panic and you won’t see me looking anxious. You won’t see me not sleeping.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:32:00] I might not see it, but presumably because you’re human you occasionally feel it?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:32:05] I don’t, honestly. I never-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:32:07] You don’t feel stress.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:32:08] I don’t feel stress, I just don’t. And that’s why- I mean, when you’re at penalties, even when I was young and I used to take them, I can remember the three I missed, but actually I had a methodology that I had that trusted in and an approach that I thought would work a high proportion of the time, and it did.

And the same in crisis is that I go back to that intellectual honesty and searching for the truth for the common good, and communicating that this is what I really believe. And we wanted to be a trust-based business, a globally trusted brand which I think we’ve accomplished. We’re the seventh-largest fund manager in Japan and we only started a few years ago, because they trust us. You know, we have a very big and successful business in America and many other countries around the world we’ve moved into, and people like what we do and like what we stand for.

So I give a speech on inclusive capitalism in Japan, in China, in Europe, in the UK, in America, same slides.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:33:16] That’s interesting.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:33:17] It a thing that resonates.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:33:19] It’s a story that cuts through regardless of environment.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:33:23] Absolutely. And similarly with the Labour Party and the Conservative Party in the UK, I think they both recognise that we do an important role in helping deliver good outcomes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:33:34] I definitely want to move onto politics a little bit further down the road.

We’re on this kind of track at the moment, just to go back to the sort of timeline. You’re heading towards academia, and then a change of direction. Partly as a result of just chance, right? You’re on holiday with some friends, just explain what happened.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:33:53] I went skiing for the first time in my life with some friends from Harvard Business School who had rented some beautiful place out in Vermont. They were stuck on some homework and I was desperate to go out, so excited, and they weren’t going to go out until they’d done this homework. I went over and looked at it, and I said, “Oh gosh,” and I just sort of did it in a few minutes. And they went, “Wow, that’s amazing. Why don’t you go and work at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs?” I said, “Never heard of them, what do they do?”

They explained it all to me very kindly and so I looked at it, evaluated the two options, decided McKinsey was the best option so I would go and work there. I didn’t realise there was this massive interview process, literally tonnes of people applying for jobs.

So I turned up for the interview at Harvard and it was full of hundreds of people dressed identically in nice blue suits, beautiful haircuts etc etc, and similarly appropriately dressed women, and I’d only got one suit which was the suit I’d got married in, which was a rather trendy light brown suit. It was very nice, with my solitary tie, and I just stood out terribly at that moment. I was like, you know, “I don’t care, I am what I am.”

I went through the interview process and they liked my intellectual approach and the way I solved problems and all the rest of it, and so they offered me a job in America. But I said I wanted to work in London, so I had to do the whole thing again in London, not thinking I could ever be turned down.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:35:38] I mean, really not thinking you could ever be turned down? That’s quite a thing to say. It didn’t occur to you that you wouldn’t get it?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:35:44] It hadn’t occurred to me that I had to fly into London and meet with all these other people and that actually I might not get that job. Again, I was very lucky at McKinsey, I had some great mentors, Peter Foy and Michael Mayer and Ian Davis and people like that were really- John Brady, Alan Morgan, a lot of people really helped me.

I was the first PhD they’d hired, very numerate, credible at building financial models which I could do very quickly and produce analyses in a heartbeat. It was sort of the equivalent of, you know, the eye of the moment was that there was a huge leap in actually the computational capabilities between a tiny calculator and computers. I got lucky that I was going through MIT at that time and learned a huge amount of skills in that, and it was useful.

So it gave me privileged access and I could work in lots of different sectors and lots of different situations and learn loads of stuff. I was very thankful to all the opportunities that McKinsey gave me. I worked for BP, for Citibank, for Courtaulds, for Banco Santander, for Globe, for Whitbread, for Pearson, and totally different situations, and got on very well with clients.

And I used to say to them. “Look, I know you’re looking at me and you think, ‘What’s this very young man who seems to have very little business experience doing helping my firm?’” And I said, “But I’ve been appointed by your Board and there’s two ways this can work. One is you get grumpy about this, and awkward and difficult and whatever, or we work together as a team and try and do the best we can. And we go and see the Board at the end of this process and we produce the best report we possibly can.”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:37:34] You’re what age at this stage when you’re having these conversations with very senior, very accomplished business people?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:37:39] Twenty-five, twenty-six.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:37:40] Twenty-five, twenty-six.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:37:42] And it was- I said on the first option, “The Board have paid for this and they want to have a good outcome, so you can go down the awkward route but actually it wouldn’t be my recommendation to do that because actually I’m a team player and I’m here to help you, and you probably have all sorts of things that you want to do and want to talk about. I’m just here to help. And so rest assured I’ll do the best job I possibly can for you.”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:38:06] So what was the ta-da moment for you where you decide actually consultancy no, I think I’m going to want to run a business?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:38:13] I’d figured out I wanted to run a business, and that McKinsey was part of my journey. But I could accelerate it by ten or fifteen years by going to McKinsey.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:38:20] Okay, so it was always a staging post.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:38:22] It was always a staging- because when they said, “We don’t want you to leave, we want you to become Partner,” “I don’t want to become Partner. I really like my job of running three studies at the same time, and I much prefer my job to the Partner’s job actually. And so I’m happy to go. Again, you’ve done an amazing job on me, but actually I’m going to go. And I really need toughening up commercially so I’m going to go and work for Dixons, for Stanely Kalms and Mark Souhami, because I think that’s part of my-”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:38:49] Incredible people to work with and to learn from.

We’re going to fast-forward a bit now. Where were you in 2008?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:38:56] I was in London, transitioning from UBM to Legal & General.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:39:08] Right, okay. So when the crisis hit, what job were you doing?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:39:14] In 2008 I was in UBM and 2009 I was in Legal & General.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:39:22] Right, okay. So literally kind of moving, changing life, your job, in the midst of this crisis. What do you remember about that period of time?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:39:32] I was really up for the challenge.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:39:33] Because for many it felt like the world was literally falling in on itself.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:39:37] No, I just thought this was an amazing opportunity for me because- very selfishly, because the clarity was really required as to what was really going on there. And so even when I joined Legal & General, and there was a very complicated set-up of accounts and all the rest of it, I said, “We’re not waiting for the year-end, we’re going to have a dress rehearsal in September. We’re going to pretend September is the year-end, we’re going to go through all the processes-”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:40:04] You’re going to do an emergency budget, basically.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:40:05] We’re going to do all the year-end processes, map them out, we’re going to have our auditors sat in on every meeting so they know absolutely transparently what’s going on, and we’re going to forecast for next year much better because we’ll have had two bites at it. We’re going to do one here and one- okay, we’re going to repeat this exercise obviously in January and February and do it again.

And we had to make some tough decisions. We had under-performers and people who were blockers and tacklers and whatever, and I went into one of the meetings and said, “Look, I’m just going to be honest with you, that some of you won’t be here in the future. I’m going to give everyone a fair shot, but I’m going to start making my mind up in a month’s time. So I want you to be really, really constructive in trying to get up, be a team player and get on and do stuff.”

And some people needed to go on performance reviews, some people left, and lots of other people are still with me today at Legal & General.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:41:02] The business that you inherited as Chief Exec in 2012, tell us a bit about what you did. Obviously, you’d been in the business for a while then, so certain things were underway. But what in terms of the immediate change that you wanted to bring, try and describe for me what your- in your mind’s eye, what the priorities were.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:41:24] It goes back to- all my training, and what I thought of the UK and the world in general, and suddenly I had this institution which was this enormous sleeping giant if you like, lots of people don’t know what we do even though we touch lots of people’s lives in the UK.

And building a team, so getting all of the executives together to do stuff. And there were some funny things about that. We went to the velodrome to have a day out cycling round the velodrome.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:42:02] This is the leadership team?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:42:03] This is the leadership team. Everybody went there, and it was very funny. The Chief Risk Officer and the Group Actuary- the physics are you just can travel round at the top and go as fast as you want, but if you try and come down there’s no brakes on the bike so it’s going to be nasty for you, and you’ve got to keep pedalling. Very simple, in one sense. The Risk Officer and the Chief Actuary tested that theory by going down the track and crashing, that was after about ten minutes. I was working out that in about half an hour I would have half my management team-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:42:40] Would be in hospital.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:42:41] Would be in hospital. Two things happened. We had a competition as to who could do the fastest lap, and being ultra-competitive I won that, and I was sort of semi-embarrassed about that because we had quite a lot of good cyclists. And so there was a longer race which I decided not to enter because I didn’t want to see the extreme pain I’d have to go through, and so I didn’t win that one.

Because one of the other things about being a team leader-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:43:11] Sorry, you said, “I didn’t win that one,” you mean you didn’t take part.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:43:14] I didn’t take part. Yes, I didn’t try. But one of the interesting things about being a leader is when you’re wrong and you say you’re wrong it’s very motivational for the team. And I learned that very early on. When I captained football teams and something went wrong and it was, “My fault guys, I didn’t do the right thing,” or whatever. And it’s the same in leadership, is actually-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:43:39] Can you give me an example?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:43:41] Well, some of them are commercially sensitive examples, but things where I thought we wouldn’t win stuff and people actually did win stuff, that actually the risk on a certain transaction that I thought was X and it turned out to be either 2X or half-X or whatever. Or that somebody who I thought might be an underperformer turns out to be just one of these people who just gets better.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:44:07] Someone that you let go and you see develop elsewhere, or?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:44:09] No, or I didn’t think would rise to the level that they’ve risen to in the organisation. But you know, my HR team or people that work for me had proven me wrong on that. And I quite enjoy that actually, because you learn from- going back to this thing about learning from failure, and then being intellectually honest about the times when you haven’t done the best. It’s about getting the right outcomes, not being right, that really matters. And that’s what we have to work towards.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:44:38] Running alongside this of course is your life outside of work. You’ve got five daughters, all very accomplished women. Give me a flavour, give the listener and viewer a flavour of the kind of father that you were, are.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:44:55] I think first I should say thank you to my wife who gave up her career and everything, because we went back to the- we were together when we were eleven and twelve and she did a great job of bringing up the children.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:45:08] You met when you were eleven?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:45:09] And twelve, yes. So then we got married very young and had our children pretty young. She came to America with me and everything else, and what was amusing in one sense is that she’d have these four children every day, to and from school, six, four, two and a baby, pushing them around and whatever. On the occasional times that I took them out on a Saturday morning, when I’d push them to the local restaurant, the China Diner in Beaconsfield, people would go, “This is marvellous. Look at this man.”

Andy Coulson:                   [0:45:38] How does he do it all?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:45:39] How does he do it all? She would be invisible for doing all that, and society would say I was amazing for, not cooking them any food but just taking them to a nice restaurant. And they were incredibly well-behaved and obviously that was all due to my wife and not- very little to me.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:45:57] But you knew didn’t you, and your daughters knew.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:46:00] Yes, absolutely. I was very involved in their education and their sporting prowess, and certainly with my- one of my children I probably did a thousand training sessions with her. Two of them I did over five hundred training sessions with. When I physically trained with them as they were growing up and going back to-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:46:22] So getting out of the office, getting back to a track and just-

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:46:26] Yes, and focus as well, compartmentalise.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:46:31] Sort of extremely efficient time-management.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:46:33] Yes. Super-efficient time-management as well, if you think about it, is that you know, I’m doing all of my exercises with the children, doing the hill sprints and everything, in the rain, the mud and whatever. Going back to my earlier resilience is that- so they did cross countries and stuff like that when they were very young, just to say- you know, these kids turn up, this is their social life as well. This is a sport where you can do it very cheaply and enjoy it, and they want to try their hardest, and you’ve got to compete against these really hungry kids who, this is what they do.

And I think it was a great lesson in life for them and they all became accomplished at sport but also that ability to look after your body, keep fit, eat healthily and deal with stress. And academically they-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:47:27] You used the word ‘stress’ there, we used it earlier and you knocked the word ‘stress’ out of this conversation quite quickly. But in the life that you’re just describing there, with a young family, full tilt professionally, yes you’ve got this incredible ability to compartmentalise and time-manage, but there must have been tensions there.

I mean, I just think for people listening to this, again, in business who are trying to find that work-life balance as it’s called in a clichéd way, but trying to manage your life, what-?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:48:06] I think compartmentalisation is a really powerful tool to do that, because you’re not distracted, you’re focussing on the here and now, and you’ve parked something. And that ability to park stuff is I think what people should strive to do, otherwise-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:48:21] Would you say that that skill though has come to you naturally, or have you developed that? And if you have developed it, how?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:48:27] I don’t know whether I always had it, but I’ve always thought a lot about it from an early age, that actually you know, that didn’t go right, I’m not going to worry about it anymore, I’ll move on and do other things. Is that a weakness or not in life? I think that made me less empathetic when I was younger, and that’s the thing I’ve learned as I’ve got older, that empathy and reassurance have much more important roles to play.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:48:58] Let’s talk about politics.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:48:59] Okay.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:49:00] Crucial obviously for a business of your size to be engaged with politicians. Have you enjoyed that engagement over the years?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:49:10] Yes. And because my expectations are that they have very difficult jobs, extraordinarily difficult jobs, against a very complicated background, and they’re put in situations where they haven’t got vast experience. You know, you’re an MP and then suddenly you’re a Minister, and you might have housing or energy or transport or health or whatever, none of which are functioning as well as you’d like them to be, how do you sort it out?

Ironically, pensions and Steve Webb, because we had somebody in for a long period of time and we got autoenrollment introduced and that’s been a huge success I think for the country, we have to think about how do we take onto the next level now. But actually that helped having a Minister of his capability over a long period of time who could reach out to-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:50:05] Quite rare, that.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:50:05] Very, very rare. So we worked very hard with Steve, and I’d love to enjoy that sort of relationship with other politicians. But they don’t hang around. And that’s one of the big problems we have in Britain I think, is that our planning, our policy and our regulation don’t move at pace, and that’s helped cause or contribute towards this flatlining of productivity, flatlining of real wages, or decline in real wages. Because we can’t create the right backdrop for-

And then the delta between where we are and where we need to get to often then looks too big and then people are not quite sure what steps to take to sort out the problems we have in the UK.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:50:54] So you’ve enjoyed it, but you must have been despairing of it at times as well, particularly over the last decade. In the time really that you’ve been in the job. I mean, it’s been chaotic.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:51:08] It’s been chaotic at times yes, and-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:51:11] It’s been chaotic for most of the time, hasn’t it?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:51:13] Yes, I think it’s been a very- and that goes back to what’s the outcome of that, and the outcome of it has been low growth, low wages, low productivity in the UK.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:51:25] So where’s the solution in all that, do you think? Or where might it be?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:51:29] I think we’re coming to more consensus around the situational analysis, that we are a low growth, low wage, low productivity economy fraught by political infighting, and therefore we need to change. And we need to change so that there’s a better relationship between business and politics, and indeed the wider economy.

And we’ve done that at a city level very successfully where people do people place politics, and whether that’s Andy Burnham in Manchester or Andy Street in Birmingham, they’re actually similar to deal with. And privately I think Rishi and Keir have lots of similar traits. They’re different in lots of ways, but actually they’re good, decent human beings who want to do the right thing for people, and are beginning to build teams that allow them to do that.

But we saw this at a local level, you could influence local outcomes and deliver really good solutions around that. And I think we have to do that at a macro level now, and recognise that business and politics have to work together in a constructive way, and we need the regulators in the room, we need the planning people in the room, we need the consultants in the room who are advising us so that we can become a team and recognise who are the blockers and tacklers and ask them to leave.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:52:50] Do we need more business people in politics?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:52:51] Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:52:52] Why is it that so many business people who have gone into politics have failed?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:52:56] Yes, they’ve definitely- I mean, that’s a piece of research that I’ve done, is that- I’ve talked to pretty much all of them about how that-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:53:04] Have you really?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:53:05] About why they-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:53:08] You’ve done that for what purpose?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:53:10] Well, partly for personal education around it, and partly because you know, I’m frequently being asked would I like to have a proper political job. But I’ve always said no, and that’s I think been the right decision so far, but I’ve always had full-time employment, children to look after and various other things.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:53:34] That might be about to change.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:53:35] Well, it’s an option that I could change, yes. I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not- some of constraints I had before, definitely I don’t have those constraints any more. My children are grown up, they’re wonderful human beings, they’ve got nice partners and four of the five are producing children, are having children, so that’s very exciting.

But I have more time, and a lot of experience. I really think that having worked in all the high-profile jobs I’ve done, all the international- is a great skill to have.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:54:10] For sure, yes. This is really interesting. So you’ve got that option open, potentially, but before you make a decision you will continue with this ongoing piece of research. You will continue to talk to business people who have gone into politics.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:54:27] Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:54:29] To try and pick apart the probability of you being able to kind of work against what we know is the trend, which is failure, largely.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:54:39] Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:54:40] From that piece of research, what would you say are the three key reasons why business people fail in politics?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:54:46] I don’t think there’s ever been enough of them. I think they’ve just sort of-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:54:50] So, isolation.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:54:51] There’s a lot of isolation.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:54:52] The shouting into the darkness.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:54:56] Yes. And some of these people are amazingly talented people in many ways much more politically astute than I am, who have never really had the impact that they have, and many of them have gone back into business and been very successful in business when they’ve gone back. And so therefore should I stop that and actually say, “Well actually, what I’m really good at is business and teaching”? I’m looking at whether I should go back to teaching at university, because one of the reasons I stopped- it’s very difficult to scale it up, in my era it was very difficult to scale up, whereas now you can scale up teaching much better because it’s much more aligned teaching.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:55:33] Technology.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:55:34] The technology is just transformational. Every industry is going to be disrupted as we go forward. The new technology is amazing and therefore there’s tonnes and tonnes of opportunities and challenges in business. So this is an amazing time to be in business, a really truly amazing time to be in business.

I was in China a couple of weeks ago. I drove around China in an autonomous vehicle, that’s no driver, just me in the back, for forty-five minutes in mainstream traffic. And I felt totally safe. Totally safe in this car. I was in Microsoft a few weeks ago as well looking at the changes that are going on in AI, and they’re off the scale.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:56:17] There’s a counter-narrative there, right? Because there’s also- I was at a conference last week where the room was largely in a state of fear about where we are currently and the threat of AI specifically. You look at is, as you did through the era of computation that you described earlier, this is just an opportunity. Do you feel the same way right now?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:56:36] I feel the same way right now. I think, you know, we live in a world where cyber-attacks happen all the time, and we’ve got a physical war going on as well. But you’ve got to balance that with the up side. This is going to happen. I physically- we can develop drugs in a heartbeat now. mRNA technology is off the scale, off the scale good. We can teach volumes of people at scale in a way that we couldn’t do before. And those are the things that we should be seizing.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:57:11] You’re not worried about jobs?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:57:13] No, I am worried that actually people are going to have to re-train to do stuff, but every time this has happened there’s always been more jobs. I think we’re living in a world in which people are not having children as well, which is- for somebody who has had five, I’ve done my bit I think for the-

The challenge we have is that actually if you look at Korea and Japan and China, you know, they’re at 0.7, 0.8 fertility rate now, which is well below the 2.1 to keep the population. So we actually need, in big picture terms, the next wave of workers to be super-productive. And technology is going to help us bring super-productivity to doing that. Including later life living and, you know, we will eventually become later life living people, and we want to know that there’s a really good care system.

And we’re never addressed that. Ironically, when the NHS was formed the care system was tiny over here, and it was hard enough to get the NHS formed. If you remember, all the doctors objected to it pretty much. And the care system has just been allowed to drift, and we’ve never really come to a good solution of how do we solve care, what does the care home of the future look like?

Andy Coulson:                   [0:58:32] When you think about politics do you think about that area as the one that you are more likely to- or that you would most enjoy getting involved in?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:58:39] Well I think it’s about outcomes. Where is the area that you’re going to have the biggest impact?

Andy Coulson:                   [0:58:46] And what does your research tell you that is? Because it was Minister for Innovation that was offered.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:58:51] Well, it was Investment. And there have been other ones that have had less publicity, should I say, things that I could do. But everything is changing. Transport is changing, energy is changing, housing is changing, education is changing, the whole creative industries are changing on an amazing level, science and technology is changing on an amazing level, life sciences. And they’re not little changes, these are exponential. And we want to get that exponential- to get productivity back up, real wages back up, and people feeling really good about their lives, and that the prospects for them in the future are so much better than they are today.

In China they’ve got banners saying, “We are the last generation.” That is a frightening statement for young children to make, when you think about it. And that’s what we don’t want to happen.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:59:47] So this isn’t about party politics, for you?

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:59:50] No, it’s nothing about party politics.

Andy Coulson:                   [0:59:50] Were you to go in, you are completely neutral as to who- because obviously we’ve got an election upcoming.

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:59:54] No, I think the-

Andy Coulson:                   [0:59:55] You’re neutral as to who the-

Nigel Wilson:                     [0:59:57] It’s about delivering an outcome. But actually you know, this is one option but clearly the teaching option is another option, doing more for sport is another option, and staying in business which, I love business as well. I wake up happy every day. Every day I wake up happy. I want to get out and do stuff, that’s why I start at five-thirty, I’m enthused when I wake up and I want to see what’s coming through.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:00:24] I don’t know what your analysis shows you, but the unsophisticated analysis of why business people don’t succeed in politics is that they arrive full of that enthusiasm that you describe, possibly at six o’clock in the morning, and they see these levers, and they pull the lever and they think something is going to happen as a result of me pulling that lever. And nothing happens.

That’s the most common complaint of the business person who goes into politics, that when they pull back the curtain there’s no ability to actually get stuff done. Or little ability.

That would frustrate you, surely?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:01:02] Yes, but I think because a lot of people like me, and I’ve got a lot of experience now, I have a track record of getting things done. Whether it was when I was a twenty-five year old at McKinsey or whether it’s when I’m a sixty-six year old now at Legal & General, when I look at the outcomes and- and for myself personally is that you know, you focus on the outcome and how do you get things done, and it’s a different world.

It’s like academia as well. I never went in- I try and teach once or twice a year, I’ve done Japan, China, here and America, and go back to university and just give a guest lectureship one night, and I enjoy that. But it’s very hard. Could I run- running a university is a very challenging job.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:02:03] More so now than ever before.

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:02:05] Running partnerships as well is a very challenging position. But you need to be in a position where when you’re doing this something happens, and that’s the judgement you have to make, that actually you are going to be a person who delivers great outcomes. And having that vision of where the outcome is going to get us to.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:02:23] The CEO succession has been well-organised at Legal & General. Very smoothly executed, at least from the outside looking in. António Simões, I hope I’ve pronounced his name correctly, will take over in January.

Has it been emotional for you at all, behind the scenes?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:02:41] I think it was- two points. Yes it was, and there were two points. When I was telling the team that I was going to step down, that was hard, a lot of them were very emotional because I’ve been with them such a long time, and that was difficult. I’m very happy with John Kingman and the Board that they’ve done a good job on the process and have really given internal candidates a good shot and external candidates, done a very thorough job in my time.

António is going to join us, he’s ex-McKinsey, I’ve known him from his HSBC days, and so I’m sure we can manage to have a good transition together, I’m feeling very positive about that.

And I’ve got another opportunity. So I’m looking at this as actually you know, what’s next? And I’m up for it. And there’s lots of different boxes, I’m enthused about all of them right now, and I’m really looking forward to the next phase of my life.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:03:38] How are you feeling about that last day in the CEO chair?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:03:42] I’m feeling good about it. I’m feeling good about it. I think my colleagues are planning all sorts of things which I just get glimpses of at times, to say thank you.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:03:54] A final run around the velodrome, maybe.

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:03:57] Well, I wouldn’t do that again, actually. In one sense it was a fantastic experience to do everything there, and you know, forty-two degrees is very steep. Very steep.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:04:09] Yes, and your family presumably are looking forward to seeing more of you?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:04:13] I don’t know about that. I think they’ve grown up now, that’s the thing, is that I think they like- they get me for enough, is I think what they feel. But I’m going to go back and train again a bit more for athletics and stuff like that. I’ve got some, you know, keep myself in good shape.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:04:32] Let’s just talk about that very quickly before we finish and I ask you for your Crisis Comforts. But I mean, that is the other extraordinary kind of literal track that’s been running alongside all this, is your life as a Masters athlete. You hold a number of titles. It’s an important thing in your life, you’re sixty-six years old now and your view is, “Yes, let’s-” what I said in the intro about another lap, perhaps faster than the last, is your attitude? You will carry on running? You’ve got plans?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:05:01] Yes. I was pretty good when I was young, but never really good at any- I tried everything from 100m to half-marathon, all my times were respectable, but I’m not like muscly enough to be a really fast sprinter and not scrawny enough to be a really good long-distance runner. So I was not- even though I trained very hard I could never quite get to the top level.

But my deceleration has been better than nearly everybody else, so I’ve decelerated slower than everybody else. I’m not quite sure why that is, but it is what it is.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:05:29] So your managed decline is your secret.

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:05:33] Yes, well academically as well, I think I peaked when I was about twenty-four and I’ve been hiding it ever since that actually I’m nowhere near as smart as it was when I was twenty-four. And athletics-wise I’ve gone down very slowly. But I enjoy that, and again it’s something that you know, you visualise it and there’s an outcome and you train hard, good preparation. I’ve won national titles at 100, 200, 400 and 800m which is a reasonable breadth. I could go longer distance but I’ve had patella tendonitis on and off in my knee and so the training for long distances I can’t really do any more.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:06:10] Remarkable. Sir Nigel Wilson, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a fascinating conversation and I think also as I said at the start, I hoped that this would be a useful conversation, and I’ve no doubt that it has proved to be for those listening and watching.

We always finish by asking our guests for their Crisis Comforts, three things that you lean on during the trickier moments in your life. I’m not going to let you have another person, and I’m also not going to let you have running I’m afraid, because we’ve covered that. So what would your three be?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:06:42] I’m just going to say one of them is a running thing. I go and do these hill sprints, and I do- they’re about 300m. I have to warm up, do them, and I take a stopwatch with me because a stopwatch never lies. And just completely focus on, this is a very hard training session, the hill sprint.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:07:01] Over what distance is the climb?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:07:05] These will be 300m or 500m hill sprints depending on what they are, but I really enjoy that because it sort of is just, you get everything out there and it’s total focus and you’re trying to keep your technique going, and I like doing that.

I love reading and I love learning through reading, and so-

Andy Coulson:                   [1:07:31] What are you reading right now?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:07:33] I read lots of different books at the same time. Some of them are personal friends of mine and so I’m not going to give them an opportunity to get-

Andy Coulson:                   [1:07:47] Because the authors are friends of yours?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:07:48] Yes. And they send me lots of stuff to-

Andy Coulson:                   [1:07:53] You’re allowed to plug a friend.

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:07:54] Yes. But I read literature, I read everything. And I like to then absorb myself for two or three hours, because it sort of takes two or three hours to break the back of a book.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:08:07] If I could give you one book in Desert Island style that you’re allowed to use in a crisis context?

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:08:16] I don’t know whether I- that’s the other thing I get asked, is about you know, what was your best this, what was your best that? And my brain doesn’t think like that, I don’t think like that. I would have fifty or sixty books I would think about as being in the universe, and then to think about which one was most appropriate at that moment in time.

My favourite book of all time is still To Kill A Mockingbird because it had such an impact on me. I loved the story and I went to see the play recently in London, which is great.

And I love live entertainment. I’ll go to pretty much any sporting event anywhere at any time. I love concerts, I love the theatre, I love watching other people who are brilliant at what they do, and just having a sense of admiration because they’re better than me and they’re just fantastic to observe. And I like that enjoyment of just being there in the moment when live sports-

Andy Coulson:                   [1:09:14] Presumably St James’ Park being the-

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:09:16] St James’ Park is- you know, I was disappointed at the Cup Final when we lost 2-0 sadly to Manchester United, but it was a great season. I get tense at the end of, you know, when you’re 2-1 up with ten minutes to go, away to Spurs, which- and ironically I was surrounded by Spurs supporters during that experience. That’s a tenseness to life.

But I love watching great people do great things.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:09:44] Wonderful. Sir Nigel Wilson, thank you so much for joining us.

Nigel Wilson:                     [1:09:46] Delighted. Thank you.

Andy Coulson:                   [1:09:49] If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please do give us a rating and a review, it really helps. And if you hit ‘subscribe’ wherever you download your podcasts from you will find loads more useful Crisis conversations. You can follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and you can watch the full episodes on YouTube. Just search for Crisis What Crisis podcast. You can also find full transcripts of this and every episode on our website,

Thanks again for joining us.

End of Recording