UK: Goodness's down side - WELLCOME PLC.

UK: Goodness's down side - WELLCOME PLC. - The visiting of the sins of the fathers on their children has always seemed an eminently just process to Toady (an opinion that is no doubt shared by Kevin Maxwell). Worse by far is the reverse: benighted offspr

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The visiting of the sins of the fathers on their children has always seemed an eminently just process to Toady (an opinion that is no doubt shared by Kevin Maxwell). Worse by far is the reverse: benighted offspring having to cope with the grim inheritance of parental virtue.

Consider the unfortunate case of Mrs Jean Wellcome, last surviving relation of one Sir Henry Wellcome. Mrs Wellcome owns cats and lives near Milton Keynes, an unenviable state of affairs in anyone's book. As if this were not enough, in 1986 Mrs Wellcome bought some shares - not an automatic cause for weeping, certainly, but for the name of the company in which she bought them: Wellcome plc.

A century earlier, her late father-in-law, Sir Henry, had given up the admirable pursuit of manufacturing bullets to shoot at Red Indians in Minnesota in order to set up a pharmaceuticals business with a friend named Silas Burroughs in London. In 1937, the unnecessarily virtuous Sir Henry (by now a naturalised Briton and married to the daughter of the equally virtuous Dr Barnado) left the entire equity of the Wellcome Foundation Limited, ex-Burroughs Wellcome and Co, to a medical trust, with the entirely laudable aim of relieving human suffering.

Whether Mrs Wellcome now contemplates this last fact with hollow laughter is a matter for some conjecture. Later this month, 50% of Wellcome plc - 74% owned by Sir Henry's Wellcome Foundation - will be sold on the stock market.

If all goes according to plan, the current capital valuation of these shares will weigh in at somewhere in excess of £4 billion. But for Sir Henry's irksome tendency to philanthropy, all of these might be clinking, even as we speak, in Mrs Wellcome's Post Office account. Far from alleviating human suffering, as Sir Henry undoubtedly intended, Toady finds it hard to imagine a greater instance of hurt than Mrs Wellcome's sad deprivation.

She apparently attends every one of Wellcome plc's AGMs, sitting at the back in eloquent silence. The evil that men do may, as one of our bards once wrote, live after them. That their goodness should do so as well seems to be overdoing it slightly.

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