It is with deep sadness that we mourn the death of Allan William Buchanan Gray, the founder of Allan Gray and Orbis. He died of natural causes on 10 November 2019 in Bermuda, where he lived since 1997. Allan made an immeasurable impact on many lives as an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist in South Africa, and globally. He has earned his rest. Jonathan Brodie pays tribute to this extraordinary man.
Allan leaves behind a lasting legacy. He was first known as an exceptional investor, founding the investment firm Allan Gray, and later Orbis. The companies he built had the singular purpose of creating long-term wealth for clients, and successive generations of employees continue to be guided by Allan’s strong values and his philosophy and approach to investing. He saw philanthropy as a natural extension of the impact that the investment business aims to make in people’s lives, spending considerable focus and energy later in his career on philanthropic endeavours.
Allan leaves behind a lasting legacy
His last years were spent setting up the Allan & Gill Gray Foundation (the Foundation), to which he donated his family’s controlling stake in the Orbis and Allan Gray groups. All dividends that the Foundation receives are devoted entirely and exclusively to philanthropy. More recently the Foundation established initiatives around the world through which themed contributions are made to causes wherever Allan Gray and Orbis offices are situated. The current programme theme aims to ensure inclusive and quality education for all, and to promote lifelong learning.
As Allan wrote in his final Chairman’s Letter in 2015: “We consider this both the right thing to do and a small but necessary contribution toward a society full of hope for all humanity. The free enterprise system has done so much for so many, and it behoves the few whom it rewards particularly well to help those less fortunate.”
Allan was a man of quiet dignity, never seeking the limelight for himself. He was bold in his decisions, but always humble in his approach to learning from others. He had genuine respect for all people, inspiring them to find and bring out the best in themselves. He modelled his view that business decisions were usually uncomplicated when viewed against clear values and principles.
He had genuine respect for all people, inspiring them to find and bring out the best in themselves
Allan always taught that it’s not enough to work on important matters – one must focus on the most important. Yet he insisted that one sweat the details, for unpicking apparently small aspects could often unlock full insight. One of his greatest talents lay in keeping both the “important” and the “detail” in mind at the same time.
His work in philanthropy began in 1979, when he and his wife Gill founded the Allan and Gill Gray Charitable Trust. In 2006 he established the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, to fund bursaries and scholarships for talented Southern African scholars and students, mainly from under-resourced communities, with the specific purpose of developing entrepreneurial talent. He and Gill made donations to fund the Centre for Values-Based Leadership at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, and the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics at Rhodes University.
Allan was born in East London, South Africa in 1938. After completing high school at Selborne College, he studied at Rhodes University. He qualified as a chartered accountant and went on to earn an MBA at Harvard Business School in 1965. He then worked at Fidelity Management and Research in Boston, before returning to South Africa in 1973 to found what would become Allan Gray Limited. He set up Orbis in 1989 to focus on global investing, and moved with Gill to Bermuda in 1997.
A meticulous planner, he spent a number of years gradually transferring his responsibilities to others, confident that the firms were in excellent hands. He handed over the presidency of Orbis to his son Will in 2000, resigned from the Allan Gray board in 2010 and stepped away from his remaining investment responsibilities at Orbis in 2012, before retiring officially from Orbis in 2016.
Allan’s important legacy is exemplified by the work of the 1 500 employees of the asset management firms he founded, the benefits accruing to their many clients, and the ongoing impact which the philanthropic efforts he founded will continue to have. He made a difference.
Allan leaves behind his wife Gill, their three children Trevor, Jenny and Will together with their spouses Carrie, Buddy and Ali, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Note about the author: Jonathan was an early employee of Allan Gray, joining the firm in 1980, and remains a member of the Orbis group. His relationship with Allan was always personal as well as professional. “Find for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend.” (Talmud)