Remembering Tim Gardener

Jane Ambachtsheer remembers a key figure in the development of responsible investment

In the cult TV show Charlie’s Angels, Charlie dispatched his assignments behind the scene, by speakerphone. This was similar to Tim Gardener’s role in Mercer’s Responsible Investment team, which he made possible in 2004 – a development that had an unmeasured, yet critically important, influence on the ‘mainstreaming’ of responsible investment. 

Tim sadly passed away early October, and many of us still acutely feel the impact of his passing. Tim recruited me to work for him in Mercer’s London office in 2000. He was a warm, funny, brilliant man who became a superb mentor and great friend. I realised early in my career that responsible investment was both my passion and a major trend to come. Speaking to Tim about this, he quickly provided his full support in helping me to propose the launch of a new RI business to our global leadership team. His vision and sharp elbows were both essential factors in having this proposal agreed at such an early time in the industry’s development (he was conveniently also the Global Head of Investment Consulting, having built the business himself). 

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts… It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”

— Chris Hadfield, astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station

Not only did Tim provide the muscle to make the RI team a reality, he provided intellectual support, and the capital for us to grow. With Emma Hunt and Danyelle Guyatt on board shortly after me, we were 3 women on a mission to make the investment world more responsible: affectionately known as Tim’s Angels. The team continued to grow (with some occasional male hires too, starting with Craig Metrick and Brian Minns), and is now aptly led by Helga Birgden, who joined in 2007. 

While Tim may have stayed in the background, his influence was larger than life. He was full of ideas, support, always challenging our thinking to make it bolder and better. Tim supported me in spending the better part of a year working on the UN PRI (let’s just say this wasn’t a very profitable project), in tackling many ambitious client projects, but perhaps most importantly, in figuring out how to embed ESG into Mercer’s core thinking. For example, he was instrumental in developing our ESG manager assessments, years before other consulting firms. 

It is rare to find leaders as visionary, bold and supportive of new concepts as Tim was. His impact was of course wider than responsible investment, and he made a massive contribution to developing the investment consulting industry and to fostering and promoting diversity at Mercer.  I had the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues at Tim’s memorial service, and heard funny stories of how people had been terrified by Tim as a graduate, but so touched by his personal interest in their careers. He used to walk the floor at the end of the day, asking people about their lives and work – reflecting leadership as defined by astronaut Chris Hadfield. He pushed us all to be our best versions of ourselves, and for the industry to deliver the best outcomes for clients – including sustainable ones. 

Tim also taught me about keeping my priorities straight. While he threw much of his personal energy into work, his daughter Sarah was the light of his life. He was never shy about stepping out of a meeting or a dinner when he needed to ring her, and her tribute to him at his memorial service spoke volumes about his role as a Dad.

Tim’s passing comes as a great loss to many of us. I will be forever grateful for his support, to me personally and to the progress of responsible investment. Without his bold support, Mercer would not have set the standard for RI nearly as early, which was a pivotal development in creating RI as ‘the new normal’. The seeds of this movement are blooming more rapidly than ever. Looking back at the roots, Tim’s shadow is forever etched in the soil.

Jane Ambachtsheer is Global Head of Sustainability at BNP Paribas Asset Management