Reflections of 30 years at Alex Picot Trust

Helicopters, beach parties and Kenyan safari lodges - just some of the highlights of a career with Alex Picot Trust.

As Derek Rhodes approaches retirement at the end of 2022 we asked him to reflect on almost 4 decades of work and in particular the last 30 years spent with us. 

His career as a trustee has involved a lot more than spreadsheets and board meetings, here’s what he had to say….

Why did you choose this career path and what might the alternative have been?

At University I wanted to be a helicopter pilot and I went on a week-long orientation with the Royal Navy at Portland Bill in Dorset and spent the week being flown around in different types of helicopters.

The most exciting parts included getting my hands on the control stick flying a Wessex at very low level and being thrown in the sea with a big box, which turned out to be a life raft, before being rescued from the sea by a helicopter. But the most exciting was when the Lynx pilot put the gears in neutral and we fell out of the sky like a stone!

Luckily, he put it back in gear before we hit the ground.

During the course of the week, I was put off joining the armed forces and so looked to an alternative.

With my degree in Econometrics the natural path was towards an accountancy career.

Initially I had interviews in London and was invited for a second interview with PwC.  However, being a little awkward I had a second interview with PWC in Jersey.  Flying into Jersey from Teesside for the interview, I had to fly in on Friday and fly home on Monday so I had the opportunity to enjoy a beer-fuelled weekend on the beaches and in the bars accompanied by a number of foreign students.  My decision was MADE!

After three years and qualifying with PWC in Jersey, the staff partner bought me a rucksack – I am still not sure to this day whether he was trying to get rid of me or  encouraging me to go travelling, but with my rucksack I set off round the world.

During my travels over the next three and half years I worked at PWC in New Zealand, temped in Australia and the British Virgin Islands, and worked for EY in Bahrain.  I enjoyed many more beach parties in many other countries during these years and it gave me the appetite to see the world.

I returned to Jersey to join the Alex Picot Group in December 1992.

Tell us about your early days at Alex Picot?

When I joined Alex Picot it was the accountancy practice and nobody here had a formal job title; they were either partners, secretaries or audit clerks.
I saw this as an opportunity and I immediately started calling myself ‘Audit Manager’.

After three years working in audit, and having completed the same audits every year, I moved into the Trust Department to work with partner, Rod Amy. In January 1997, he invited me to be a partner in the firm and a director of the trust company.

What do you consider to be the biggest changes that you have seen in last 30 years?

Two things spring to mind – computers and email.

Digitisation is the most fundamental of changes I have experienced over the years. In the early days computers at desks were rare, only the secretaries had them and there was one in the corner for the audit staff to use.

When we introduced a computer to replace the typewriter, Noella, one of our secretaries, considered leaving. Once she understood that she could make changes to her letter without using any Tippex, she decided that it might be a good idea to learn how to use it.

Noella went on to be the longest serving member of staff we have ever had, having joined the firm at age 19, she retired aged 68. Even longer than Andrew Le Cheminant who joined at 18 and 40+ years later, is still not retired!

Prior to computers and emails, everything was done by post. I was amazed when I joined in 1992 that the partners still opened, read and date stamped all the mail. They did this to monitor the company’s incoming mail to understand what their colleagues were doing and to also collect any cash or cheques received. Can you imagine if we received cash to pay our fees nowadays!

Letters are not emails!. Once you received your mail delivery each morning it dictated whether you had anything urgent that needed to be dealt with immediately, or whether you could just carry on doing your day-to-day work.

How things have changed.

Over the years there was always time for indoor cricket and putting competitions in the office, the family-focussed culture instilled by the Picot family remains evident today.

What would you consider to be a career highlight?

In about 1997, it became obvious that the partners were quite happy for me to represent the company and attend networking conferences around the world. This suddenly sounded like the best job in the world.

They also agreed that my wife could join me and for the next 20 years we went to some fantastic conferences around the world, the best ones being Israel, South Africa, Bangkok, Rio, New Orleans and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

What is the most enjoyable element of the private client trustee role?

I would say that my most enjoyable times have been travelling to other countries to meet clients where they live. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether it is in the office or overseas, I always enjoyed the face-to-face meetings with clients and try to have a laugh with them on a personal level.

Is there a memorable moment that stands out to you?

Two moments stick out in my mind.

The first was when I went to North Yorkshire to tell a beneficiary that a distant uncle had left her some money. She lived in a small house with her handicapped son.

As she handed me a cup of coffee on a saucer I was telling her that she had been left a million pounds. She let out a gasp and her hands started to shake so much that the cup rattled on the saucer and the coffee started to spill. I grabbed the coffee so she could hug her family. This was one of the most emotional moments in my working life.

Another memory was a trip to Kenya.

We have clients in Kenya and I visited the country with my colleague Wendy White, who at the time was aged 75 and quite tall.

We took a 4-wheel drive Suzuki jeep into the jungle in Kenya to meet clients. The client we had just met in Northern Kenya, told us a short cut to the next client and I didn’t realise that Wendy’s sense of direction did not exist.

We drove through the jungle on mud tracks and riverbeds for the best part of six hours until it was dark and we only had a quarter tank of petrol left. I decided to stop for the night and sleep in the car until it was light. Wendy beat me to it and climbed into the back seat and started to snore.

Being cramped in a two-door car was becoming quite uncomfortable, so I was glad that half an hour later a motorbike went past, we flashed our lights and he came over.

Wendy spoke to him in Swahili and discovered that he bought his petrol from one of our clients. He showed us the way and the client came to the gate of his five-star safari lodge with a loaded shotgun in hand – people don’t normally travel around at night in the jungles in Kenya.

The result of this was that we got a luxury five-star meal and stayed in a luxury five-star lodge, overlooking the river.

We woke up with elephants drinking from our open sided bathroom on the edge of the cliff, what an amazing experience. Great memories.

What qualities make for a good trustee?

In general, the obvious ones are relevant – professionalism and knowledge of the subject.

However, I always found the best way forward was to smile and laugh with my clients and that really helped when beneficiaries started to argue amongst themselves. Many difficult questions can be asked and unpopular decisions made if you have good relationship with the client and a smile on your face.

What advice would you give to a 21-year old trainee starting out?

Travel a lot, smile a lot and work hard!

Thank you to Derek for taking the time to share his memories (& photos) with us, his insight into working here during the last 30 years has been very entertaining.
We wish him all the very best for a long and healthy retirement.