It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it
Jim Mellon is 60. He doesn’t want anyone to know that, so just keep it between you and me, okay? What’s interesting, though, is that he could be just half way through his life, if current predictions are anything to go by.
Mellon is a rich man. Worth about £850 million. He’s up there as one of the wealthiest Scots on the planet. But, as everyone knows, you can’t take your money with you, so best to enjoy it while you can.
In Mellon’s case it’s about investing in his fascination with long life. He’s co-authored a book on the subject and tours the world talking to scientists and anyone who has a theory on the elixir of youth.
“Within 20 years life expectancy will rise to 110 or 120,” he says. “It is equivalent to living another 50% of your life. It will be like going from a 24 hour day to 36 hours.”
Edinburgh-born Mellon made his money on the markets and is a long time pal of Linlithgow-based financial adviser Alan Steel who invited him to speak at at an event at the Waldorf Astoria (still better known as the Caley) hotel in the city.
Mellon may be one of the world’s mega-rich, with homes dotted around some famous playgrounds, but there are some things that keep him grounded. Last time he was back home to speak it was at the New Club which has a strict rule on ties. So before his speech he dashes up the road to buy a tie, except it doesn’t really matter this time. The Caley is relaxed about ties.
He re-appears, clad in tartan neckwear, and takes to the lectern to deliver a Powerpoint display on his view of stock markets, President Trump and scientific developments in making us all live longer.
This is not so much an interview as a few snatches of conversation after his presentation. He expresses surprise that he seemed pessimistic despite the first half of his slide show suggesting markets were over-valued and that Trump’s hopes of 4% growth in the US economy was an “impossible” target.
“I thought I was being quite positive,” says Mellon, and he was probably correct in respect of the second half when he spoke enthusiastically about investment opportunities in anything connected with extending life expectancy.
The point of this is that he believes it is no longer a vision of the future.
“It is happening now,” he says, pointing out that the number of centenarians will soon become “a trivial event”.
He notes that the first telegrams to 100-year-olds were sent by the King in 1917 to 24 people. By 2040 there will be 60,000.
“Life expectancy in 1900 was 31. In 2015 it was 72. By 2030 it could be 120. Just look at the charts.”
Mellon has taken all this on board to colour his investment strategy. He is still mainly in property – mostly in Berlin – but has about 10% in “risk” businesses, mainly life sciences which have evolved from the development stage to producing results.
He talks confidently of cures for cancer, or at least drugs that keep it under control, and for heart disease and even dementia.
All these offer investment opportunities and already he is expecting to exit one life science company with a 40 times return which will net him about £30m.
He certainly seems to have more confidence in these businesses than in the American economy under President Trump whom he says has achieved “nothing at all”.
He is worried about the rise of the markets and believes some of the more popular stocks are hugely over-valued: Tesla at $800,000 per car against BMW at $25,000 and General Motors at $5,000.
His forecast? “A good chance of a 15% to 20% correction in major world markets in the next two years.”
He believes Brexit is a sideshow in Europe to the bigger issues such as the survival of the euro. Mellon is convinced that two or three countries will withdraw, with Italy topping his list of likely drop-outs. Britain, he says, will probably adopt a Norwegian model in Europe.
The last word is on former First Minister Alex Salmond whom he met at the Fringe.
“I spent the afternoon with him,” he says. “I would not have voted for independence and I’m not convinced it will happen, but then again I don’t think he is either.”
Education: Oxford University (Master’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics)
Career highlights: Made “spectacular” amounts of money in Russia’s transition to a market economy in the 1990s. Founded the fund management firm Charlemagne Capital in the 1990s. He is chairman of Burnbrae.
Home: Domiciled in the Isle of Man but has numerous homes around the world, including San Francisco and Ibiza.
Not very keen on the EU?
Donated at least £100,000 towards campaigns to leave the EU in 2015