Kenneth Henderson: Man who changed Norwich Union’s fortunes

A revolution in investment strategy at Norwich Union was driven by Kenneth Henderson, who has died peacefully, aged 97.

He died the day before his 67th wedding anniversary at his Norwich home, where he and his wife, Joan, had lived for 60 years.

In his 20-years as investment manager, he transformed returns ten-fold as the value of investments in commercial property and land rose from �10m to �100m.

Under his guidance, Norwich Union became the first major life assurance company to move out of low-yielding fixed interest stocks into equities and real estate. And it helped to propel the then mutual social, now Aviva, into the big league. When he joined in 1930, it had assets of �30m and over his 44 year career, it grew to about �1.1bn. Today, it stands at �14.8bn.

The son of parents in the hotel business in Lowestoft, he got his first lucky break because he had studied shorthand at Beccles College.

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He joined Norwich Union's head office as a junior clerk on a �35 salary in the policy department. When the general manager of the investment department needed an efficient shorthand clerk, he transferred.

After gaining his professional insurance qualification, he was sent to London in 1937 as an inspector. There, he joined the Honorable Artillery Company, transferring to the Suffolk Regiment during the war. While serving in Burma in 1944, he was wounded and while recovering in India, he met and married his wife, who was his physiotherapist.

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Mentioned in dispatches, Maj Henderson returned to London to set up Norwich Union's investment office. In 1950, he became super-intendent in Norwich and two years later became investment manager. He was promoted to assistant general manager in February 1958 and became general manager of the Life Insurance Society, Fire Insurance Society and the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company in 1969.

He had persuaded the board to switch the portfolio into equities and property, which was revolutionary thinking at the time and obviously quite dramatic.

Speaking on his retirement as a general manager in June 1974, he said: 'We found it difficult to buy property at what we thought were proper prices.' Instead, the estate department carried out the policy most successfully.

He had also set up a banking subsidiary, Norwich General Trust, as the group went on an expansionary policy, also merging with the Scottish Union. In his autobiography, Lucky Man, he reflected on his extraordinary career which included a number of years as trustee and a chairman of Norwich's Great Hospital.

He always took a keen interest in the city and was a member of Eaton Golf Club and the Norwich Society. Fanatical about opera, he saw Maria Callas in Paris and more recently was involved in the Norwich Musical Society.

A keen fisherman, he took up salmon fishing in retirement.

He leaves a widow, Joan, and two daughters, Sarah and Judith, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren. A service of thanks-giving will be held at St Andrew's parish church, Eaton, on Thursday, August 11 at 11am. Michael Pollitt

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