Paul Ruddock was eight when, on a visit to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, he came across a boarded-up room of sculpture casts.
“I remember looking through a chink in the plywood, seeing Trajan’s Column, and just being blown away,” says Ruddock.
Today, Ruddock, 52, is co-founder and chief executive of London-based Lansdowne Partners Ltd. and the V&A’s chairman. He is worth 270 million pounds ($443 million) according to the Sunday Times Rich List, a figure he won’t disagree with. Lansdowne is one of Europe’s largest hedge-fund companies, with $14.4 billion under management, though, he says, it’s having “a tough year.”
Ruddock has been on the V&A’s board for nine years and chairman for the past four. He has helped raise 120 million pounds for the museum’s overhaul, co-funded the revamp of its Medieval and Renaissance galleries, and named its first non-British director (German-born Martin Roth). A donor to the British Museum -- with his name on a gallery -- he joined the board of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in January. His lifetime donations are “in the tens” of millions of pounds.
“Everybody who can afford to should give some time to some charity, because that’s about giving back to society: Society has been good to you,” he says. “Whether it’s helping out with the local church group, at the soup kitchen, or as a trustee of a charity.”
“A lot of people in our financial industry have skill sets which are very good” for philanthropy, he says.
In person, Ruddock is affable, driven, and guarded. Our interview, his first ever about philanthropy, takes a year to set up, and happens in impersonal settings: a Lansdowne meeting room, and a bar at nearby Claridge’s, where he seldom goes.
Gray-haired Ruddock wears suits with open-neck shirts and frameless glasses. One striking accessory -- an Audemars Piguet watch -- turns out to be a gift from a friend and ex-colleague (he flips it over to show the personalized engraving).
Ruddock has shunned the media since his company got slammed for profiting from a short position in Northern Rock Plc, the lender that was nationalized after suffering the U.K.’s first run on a bank in more than a century. Newspapers said Ruddock made 100 million pounds on the collapse.
“It is public record that Lansdowne, on behalf of the funds that it managed, made significant profits from shorting Northern Rock,” he says. “We lost money on Northern Rock for two years on that short, then we made some money.”
“The large amounts of money some have quoted me making on Northern Rock are wildly exaggerated,” he says. “I am one of 18 partners, and in a typical year, there are always going to be some partners who make quite a bit more money than I do.”
At the V&A, Ruddock is hands-on.
“There are some chairmen who just host dinners and oversee great board meetings,” says philanthropist John Studzinski, senior managing director of Blackstone Group LP. “Paul is actually on the ground not only as a good businessman and leader for the board, but also as a passionate and intellectually curious collector.”
Ruddock says he spends at least 10 hours a week of his own time on the V&A. He has coaxed his friends Michael Hintze (of CQS U.K. LLP) and William and Judith Bollinger into giving to the museum. The V&A -- led through June by Mark Jones -- now has in-house fundraisers who target donors by income tier, and lure wealthier benefactors by finding out their passions.
Ruddock was born in Solihull in central England. His parents “came from very poor backgrounds,” he says. He got a first-class law degree from Oxford University, then found the British legal profession “very snobbish and hierarchical.”
“I wanted to go somewhere where, if I was really good, I could make some money sooner rather than later,” he says.
He joined Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in London in 1980, left in 1984 for Wertheim & Co., and co-founded Lansdowne in 1998.
Meanwhile, he began collecting medieval art, as “a very good small medieval alabaster” cost relatively little. He has lent to the British Museum’s current “Treasures of Heaven” relics show, and prefers “old art.”
“A lot of people view contemporary art as a business, so they’re trying to figure out who’s going to be the next star,” he says. “I have no interest in that.”
A father of two, Ruddock is married to Jill Shaw Ruddock, a U.S.-born ex-banker who is on the board of the Donmar Warehouse Theatre and just released a candid, interview-based book on the menopause (proceeds go to charity).
Still enthralled by his job and the “curveballs” thrown his way -- most recently, the Japanese tsunami and Mideast uprisings -- he is preparing for a new challenge: raising another 100 million pounds for the V&A’s redevelopment.