Allan Gray (1938-2019)

  • Lasting legacy: Allan Gray and his wife Gill. Mr Gray was a successful investor, businessman and philanthropist, who founded Bermudian-based Orbis Investment Management. He died on Sunday (Photograph supplied)

    Lasting legacy: Allan Gray and his wife Gill. Mr Gray was a successful investor, businessman and philanthropist, who founded Bermudian-based Orbis Investment Management. He died on Sunday (Photograph supplied)


Philanthropist and immensely successful businessman and investor Allan Gray has died in Bermuda at 81.

Described as “an unassuming man and full of class”, the island resident was media-shy, but his achievements are widely known in the business world and far beyond.

He and his wife, Gill, moved to Bermuda in 1997, six years after his company Orbis Investment Management had relocated its headquarters to the island.

Today, Orbis is overseen by his son William and has 72 staff on the island, with offices on Front Street. It has another nine offices around the world, and has $34 billion in assets under management.

Born Allan William Buchanan Gray, in South Africa in 1938, Mr Gray became a self-made billionaire and one of Africa’s richest men.

He created a lasting legacy by donating a vast portion of his fortune to be used for philanthropic purposes. The impact of that decision was evident in a sea of tributes that lit up social media as news of his passing spread.

On Twitter, a popular tag for those leaving tributes was #ThankyouAllanGray.

One person wrote: “The more tweets I read about the impact Allan Gray had on the people who benefited from the education programmes the more I realise the value of his impact on many generations of South Africa.”

While another stated: “I’m convinced Allan Gray really lived out his purpose on this here Earth. I am for ever changed, and more so, I am for ever grateful.”

Mr Gray studied at Harvard Business School, graduating with an MBA in 1965. He worked for asset management firm Fidelity Management and Research in Boston, before returning to South Africa in 1973 to create what became Allan Gray Investment Management, a Cape Town-headquartered company serving a number of African countries.

In 1989, he founded Orbis in London, moving its headquarters to Bermuda in 1991.

Five years ago, South African media company Moneyweb compared the return on investment success of Orbis and Allan Gray Investment Management to that of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Philanthropy became an increasing focus for Mr Gray, and in his final “chairman’s letter” for Orbis, in 2015, he wrote: “We consider this both the right thing to do and a small but necessary contribution towards a society full of hope for all humanity. The free enterprise system has done so much for so many, and it behoves the few whom it rewards particularly well to help those less fortunate.”

His philanthropy work began in 1979 when he and his wife founded the Allan and Gill Gray Charitable Trust. In 2006, he established the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation to fund bursaries and scholarships for Southern African scholars and students, mainly from under-resourced communities, with the specific purpose of developing entrepreneurial talent.

His last years were spent setting up the Allan & Gill Gray Foundation, donating his family’s controlling stake in the Orbis and Allan Gray groups to the foundation. All dividends that the foundation receives are devoted entirely and exclusively to philanthropy.

The foundation has established the Philanthropy Initiative through which contributions are made to charitable partners in the locales where Allan Gray Limited and Orbis offices are situated, including Bermuda. The current programme theme aims to ensure inclusive and quality education for all, and to promote lifelong learning.

Mr Gray shied away from publicity and for the most part remained out of the spotlight.

An example of this came in 2007 when, in response to an interview request by South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, a spokeswoman for Allan Gray Limited said: “He doesn’t do interviews. He lives in Bermuda, and he’s the humblest man on the planet”.

Bermuda’s bridge-playing community enjoyed his support, particularly for the Bermuda Bowl. Mr Gray served on the committee at the time the Orbis World Bridge Championships were held at the Fairmont Southampton in 2000. Among those at the two-week championships was film star and famous bridge player Omar Sharif.

David Ezekiel, who writes the bridge column for The Royal Gazette, said: “Allan will be greatly missed by the many people he and his family have touched and supported in Bermuda since they made Bermuda their home and established Orbis on the island.

“He was an unassuming man and full of class, and without the support of Orbis the 50th anniversary of the world championships of bridge, The Bermuda Bowl, could never have been staged here in 2000.

“Allan was a great supporter of bridge and the funding provided by Orbis has continued to help aspiring bridge players long after the tournament was over.

He added: “His philanthropic efforts both here and in South Africa were immense, and will undoubtedly continue through his foundations and his family.

“All of us in the bridge fraternity and in the Bermuda community will miss him greatly, and our thoughts at this time are with his family.”

Mr Gray died of natural causes on Sunday. A statement issued through Orbis expressed deep sadness. It said: “Allan made an immeasurable impact on many lives as an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist in Bermuda, and globally. He has earned his rest.

“Allan leaves behind a lasting legacy. He founded Allan Gray and Orbis with the singular purpose of creating long-term wealth for clients and the firms continue to be guided by Allan’s strong values and his philosophy and approach to investing.

“He saw philanthropy as a natural extension of the impact that the investment business aims to make in people’s lives, spending considerable focus and energy later in his career on philanthropic endeavours.”

The statement added: “Allan’s important legacy is exemplified by the work of the 1,500 employees of the asset management firms he founded, the benefits accruing to their many clients, and the ongoing impact which the philanthropic efforts he founded will continue to have. He made a difference.”

Mr Gray handed over the leadership of Orbis to his son William in 2000, and resigned from the board in 2010. He stepped away from his remaining investment responsibilities at Orbis in 2012 and officially retired from the company in 2016.

He leaves behind his wife Gill, their three children Trevor, Jenny and Will together with their spouses Carrie, Buddy and Ali, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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Published Nov 12, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 12, 2019 at 12:33 am)

Allan Gray (1938-2019)

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