'Ground-breaking' former Wellcome Trust investment chief dies at 55

Danny Truell, who is credited with saving the charity billions by anticipating the 2008 financial crisis, has died from a long-term illness

Danny Truell (Photograph: World Economic Forum)
Danny Truell (Photograph: World Economic Forum)

The "ground-breaking" investment manager who helped to earn billions of pounds for the Wellcome Trust through wise moves on the stockmarket has died at the age of 55.

The charity said Danny Truell, who died this week from a long-term illness, had been "pivotal to making Wellcome what it is today".

Truell joined Wellcome in 2005 as chief investment officer, having previously worked at organisations including the Coal Board, SG Warburg and Goldman Sachs.

He stepped down from his role at Wellcome in 2017 for health reasons, but continued to assist the charity in a non-executive position as emeritus partner.

In a tribute to Truell posted on its website, the trust said that he had saved the charity billions before the 2008 financial crisis by selling vulnerable assets in the charity’s investment portfolio and holding more than usual in cash.

"If he’d been wrong about the crash, Wellcome would have performed rather worse than its peers," the charity’s tribute said. "As it turned out, if he hadn’t acted when he did, Wellcome would have lost billions."

The statement said Truell then changed course in late 2008 and early 2009 to buy up public equity as the stockmarkets were falling.

The charity said that stocks bought during this period had "contributed significantly to the outstanding performance of the investment portfolio over the next decade".

Truell also changed the charity’s investment policy from measuring its portfolio only in pounds sterling to a 50/50 split between pounds and dollars, which meant the charity was insulated from the economic shock of the 2016 Brexit referendum. 

The charity praised his decision to bring the charity’s investment team in-house, saving Wellcome millions of pounds annually that would otherwise have been spent on external consultants.

Truell was also behind Wellcome’s decision to become the first charitable foundation to issue a bond, which has never lost its triple-A credit rating and generates bigger returns than the amounts paid out to bondholders every year, according to the charity.

The results meant that by 2016 Truell was believed to be the highest-paid person in the charity sector, earning more than £3m a year, according to Third Sector’s pay study for that year.

At the time of Truell’s departure from his executive role, the Wellcome Trust had assets worth £21.9bn, its 2017 accounts show.

A statement from the charity said: "Danny was a mercurial character. The sheer number of ideas he came up with every day meant those around him had to be prepared to shoot down the crazier ones.

"His best ideas were truly ground-breaking, though, and the impact he had at Wellcome will never be forgotten.

"Working with his team, colleagues across Wellcome, directors and governors, Danny enabled incredible growth in our resources and in our ambitions to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive."

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "Danny Truell has been one of the most remarkable people to have served Wellcome. His contributions have been pivotal to making Wellcome what it is today."

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