IT’S been a bit of a sad old start to 2022. First we heard of the passing of Gary Burgess. Thousands of words and hours of media coverage have eulogised his far too short life, so I will just add that I can’t remember an incomer ever winning over our hearts like he did – and he even managed to keep them when he left us for the other island. RIP, Gary.
Then I heard of another who has been taken away from us and, though he didn’t achieve the celebrity status of the one and only Mr Burgess, he too was a light in a dark place for many, as well as being one of the early pioneers of the industry which has given us so much.
Bryan Brehaut was my boss for nearly 30 years and if asked to describe him, the first words that come to mind are ‘he was a good man’. I’m not an obituary writer and this is not Bryan’s obituary, but I can’t not take this opportunity to record the loss of a good Guernseyman.
Bryan was a proper banker. Someone who actually wanted a career in banking when tomato picking and bed making were our principal industries and there was no finance industry. He was properly trained in a banking environment, which would have been familiar to Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson and Private Pike. He started at the bottom, where he was responsible for keeping the coal fire going in the old Westminster Bank, and worked his way up.
I first met him in 1978 when I had returned to Guernsey after a stint farming in the UK to grow tomatoes and run a guest house. My new wife, who did not come from a self-employed background, forced me to get a proper job as well and that’s how I first stumbled into finance. Bryan was then the assistant manager running banking at Kleinwort Benson, the first of the finance businesses in Guernsey.
Today, assistant manager is almost an entry level title in Guernsey’s hyper-inflated finance hierarchy ranking system and it would now equate to an executive director level position, and because I was at deputy under assistant probationary clerk level in the new-fangled funds department our paths didn’t cross a lot.
I didn’t like working indoors and my English wife didn’t like living in Guernsey, so I worked for only a few months at KB before setting off to the UK again to make my fortune farming. However, although I had some of the happiest years of my life farming, it didn’t pan out. Remembering my Grandpa saying ‘if you can’t make a living in Guernsey, you can’t make one anywhere’, I came back home in 1984 and went crawling back to KB cap in hand to beg for a job.
Well blow me down, Mr Brehaut was now the big boss and a fully fledged manager. Manager then was the equivalent of God now. BB, as we knew him, took pity on me and probably much against his better judgement took me back on. I don’t think I was a model staff member and on more than one occasion I was called to BB’s office for a ‘chat’. Mostly involving my underground publication, The Unit Truster.
Bryan had a fatherly management style and knew every staff member by name, which became quite a feat after we passed the 200 mark. He may not have known exactly what the drone in sector nine actually did, but he would know he was called Bob.
The greatest thing that I can say about Bryan is that I doubt there will be a single person who ever worked for him who will have a bad word to say about him. And if at any time a staff member was going through a great personal trial, he would be there trying to help.
A great servant of the community, he was awarded the BEM for a lifetime’s service to the Boys’ Brigade, but that’s a part of his life I never knew. He probably deserved a greater honour for his quiet, unassuming but vital part in building our principal industry. He was the great mentor who took building people up into the best version of themselves as his principal role as a leader.
There was a time when ex-KB staff were using the skills and discipline learned under BB to build and lead the multitude of new businesses opening their doors in Guernsey and saving our economy from the sudden decline of the growing industry.
BB managed to take the unqualified and inexperienced odds and sods like me, who had been milking cows and picking tomatoes, and made us into the building blocks of a world-class finance centre. Of course not all made it to the level of self-proclaimed finance industry giant like me, but many came close.
Rest in peace, Bryan. You gave your home island more than you took and you will never be forgotten as long as a KB veteran can still draw breath.
Writing this made me wonder if there are any Bryan Brehauts in the finance industry today. And do you know, I think there probably aren’t.
That may explain our staffing and skills problem, which is the greatest threat to our continuing prosperity. We once had absolute experts at the top who set the bar for others to aspire to.
But now, has a vastly inflated industry become too big for a relatively small population to support? And is this combined with the official message our educational system keeps pushing to our youngest and brightest that their best future is somewhere outside of this island lowering the bar from the dizzy height set by BB and his ilk?
It was once said of us that our industry was like a meringue. It looked firm and stable at the top but once you poked your finger through the crust, it was pretty insubstantial underneath.
Is it possible that even our crust now is getting a bit soggy or, even more worrying, has the dearth of good staff outsourced our crust to other locations where good leaders and mentors are training their next generation?