Peter Pereira Gray - Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer of the Investment Division of the Wellcome Trust

Posted on 30 April 2020

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment.  The current situation means we are now recording the podcast digitally so please do bear with us if the sound quality isn’t up to our usual studio standard. 

Today I am delighted to welcome Peter Pereira Gray.  Peter is Managing Partner and CEO of the Investment Division of Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest charitable foundations dedicated to medical research and new drug discoveries.  Together with the Chief Investment Officer, Peter is accountable for their $35 billion global investment portfolio which funds all of Wellcome’s incredibly valuable work.  Peter currently leads Wellcome’s initiative to obtain planning consent to extend its research facilities in South Cambridgeshire where critical genome sequencing and analysis is being undertaken on the COVID-19 virus.  Peter is the Chairman of businesses within the Wellcome portfolio including Farmcare, a 20,000 acre UK farming business, Premier Marinas and Peter is also a main Board Director of iQ, their UK student housing JV with Goldman Sachs, one of the UK’s largest purpose built student housing providers; the business is currently under contract to Blackstone.  Peter is also Co-Chairman of the Institutional Investors Roundtable, a not for profit forum for senior executives and global asset owners; their mission is to improve collaboration opportunities between Governments, philanthropy and investors, and they speak for some $13 trillion worth of assets amongst their forty five members.  Peter is also an advisor to H Robotics, the innovative UK startup Co-founded by Pippa Malmgren. 

So, now we are going to hear from Peter Pereira Gray on his extraordinary role at the Wellcome Trust.  Peter, welcome to the PropertyShe podcast.  I realise that you are in the hot set today because Ian Marcus, in his podcast interview, particularly made the point that you were someone who would give a slightly broader perspective of where real estate fits in with the investment landscape and I think that must be a huge understatement actually so, the first thing I am going to ask you about is that you started your career as a surveyor and you are now the Managing Partner and CEO of the Investment Division of the Wellcome Trust and I believe that the value of the portfolio, which is multi-asset investments across the world, is about $35 billion so, how did you make that change from surveyor to running that investment portfolio?

Peter Pereira Gray

Yeah, well thank you Susan.  I think a vast amounts of luck and being in the right place at the right time and doing one or two things that I think were sensible to do which was to treat education as an ongoing thing and so at formative points in my career, I went back to some books and went back to some mentors and learnt a bit about the world outside real estate and I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am because we know we can count on things on one hand really, real estate professionals that have escaped from real estate to look at a wider world and I thoroughly enjoy it, I find it very, very stimulating.  I have to say, I think real estate has been a fantastic training ground, you come across all the types and things that you seen in other investment markets but because of real estate’s choice of different language and operating in a parallel universe in some ways and it, in the main, being a private asset class, I rather fear it’s overlooked by many and in fact I have found that the ingredients that I have learnt have been very, very valuable on the journey through the investment world that I have had to date. 

Susan Freeman

Just looking at the Wellcome Trust investments, you have investments in all sorts of asset classes in all sorts of places across the world.  How much is actually in real estate and what are the other main sectors?

Peter Pereira Gray

So, to answer the question directly, we’ve got a little bit under 10% in real estate at the moment in direct property assets and what we call property or asset backed operating companies.  The wider portfolio, I mean, I guess there are some raw rules that we have operated to in building a portfolio for many years that I have learnt but it is incredibly important if you, if you’re a foundation portfolio such as ours where there are no external sources of income at all.  We were created in 1936 and we haven’t had anything coming in outside of that portfolio since then.  So, it’s very important not to have all your eggs in one basket, you must be diversified and that’s critical to be diversified by currency and geography as well as by a set type.  We always need to have enough cash on hand in order to meet liabilities, the disaster scenario for any investor whether we are talking public institutions or indeed individual private investors; always make sure you are never having to sell assets at the wrong time and potentially the wrong prices.  We have a thing about not wanting to invest in what we would call an unlimited liability even it is a tiny percentage outturn in the scenario that actually you lose a lot of money, be very very careful indeed about that and we tend to say that those terrible things can happen, they are not predictable and we wouldn’t want to vet the whole of Wellcome’s operations on an investment that had unlimited liability at all, even a small part on that.  So, you always invest with inflation in mind because inflation can eradicate the quantum of your impact in the world for investors such as us.  So, I tend to think in real returns, not in nominal returns and so we are seeking long run real growing cashflows over time, we are not seeking trading profits so, I am indifferent between public and private assets typically, you do need to understand the differential risk return character of each of those but as long as you are paid to take the appropriate level of risk - that is the return you seek - as long as you understand the level of control that you have over an asset and the level of liquidity - that is how easily you can get that asset back and turn it into cash - then I am reasonably indifferent to owning right across the spectrum and so today, in broad terms to a longwinded way of getting to the first part of your question, is what we invest in.  Broadly speaking, we’ve got about 50% of our portfolio in private assets and 50% in public assets.  We’ve got around 40% in public equities in total, utilising some world class managers but in the main we are running our own equity portfolios from our desks in London – or of course I should say now from our desks at home, sadly.  We have a portfolio of hedge funds including equity long/short and multi-strat hedge funds and we invest in private equity, both in buy outs, traditional buy outs, but also we’ve got quite heavy weighting to venture capital and innovation because that has been very lucrative for us over time and it’s a sector I am particularly interested in.  We’ve mentioned property and then today we have one of the highest proportions of cash in our portfolio that I can recall in the nineteen years I have been doing this with Wellcome which tells you a little bit about the need to balance optimism with fear in markets that are as tricky as this. 

Susan Freeman

The COVID crisis which we are experiencing at the moment is something which is affecting everybody, everywhere.  How does that effect the way that you are looking at the portfolio and how you are investing at the moment?

Peter Pereira Gray

It’s a great question, Susan and these are trying times for all of us.  So, the answer is said very simply, it is very hard to do which is, we are trying to anticipate what will do well in the next ten years, fully recognising now that it is very unlikely that what has done well in the last ten years is going to be untouched by this and so we have got some major structural changes to address.  It’s interesting to look at the activity that we actually have been involved with in our portfolio in the last six to eight weeks or so and we have actually changed its nature and character quite significantly actually and all of that is trying to anticipate changing trends so, you might put me on the spot and say ‘What does that mean?’ and I would say to you well, an example would be the significant increase in online credit card expenditure and you can think through how you might try and take advantage of that.  We think that that might continue going forward and so we did want some exposure to that particular sector and have recently taken some.  So, that’s just a small example for you of some of the structural change that we have been trying to address. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, there must be a huge amount to think about because obviously Wellcome Trust is a charitable foundation dedicated to driving health improvements and you will correct me if I have got this figure wrong but I believe it spends more than £800 million a year on supporting biomedical research and the other initiatives it is involved with so, huge pressure on you to make sure that you are producing that from the portfolio. 

Peter Pereira Gray

Yes, the investment portfolio, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t have any inflows from any other party and so we have to generate everything from the one portfolio that we have and so, if you like, we are the engine which allows Wellcome to do some of the extraordinary things that it does with its money so, it’s an extraordinary privilege right now in the world to see such a significant medical crisis and to see the incredible way in which Wellcome is interwoven into society trying to help solve it and we have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies trying to mobilise people, advocate for them, influence Governments, actually deploy money into research initiatives to try and come up with an answer to this horrendous virus. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, and we’ll come to that in more detail in a minute.  So, it obviously is a preoccupation at the moment and it’s difficult, I mean it must be the key preoccupation, are there any other key issues for global investors at the moment or is it really a question of just focussing on that, what it means and keeping things going?

Peter Pereira Gray

I mean I say I am very privileged, not withstanding this is the hardest moment professionally in my career, it’s the most interesting intellectually.  I can’t remember a time where you have got such a significant interplay of geopolitical, of economic, of social, of medical, of built environment type issues all coming together at exactly the same time and the consequences for society of getting some of those things right and getting some of those things wrong are just immense and we could take any one of those individual issues and have a whole podcast programme on them and I am not suggesting we do that but those are the issues and the interplays that we are trying to work with all the time in having a balanced risk adjusted return that is acceptable for Wellcome from our endowment. 

Susan Freeman

And I think the fund is recognised to have one of the strongest long-term investment track record so, I think you must take some credit for that. 

Peter Pereira Gray

Better lucky than good, Susan. 

Susan Freeman

I’m sure it’s not luck.  So, you know, as you touched upon, Wellcome Trust plays a key role in calling for investment in global research and development, specifically now to help the world overcome COVID-19.  Now, I know you are directly involved with the new research facilities in South Cambridgeshire.  Can you tell us a little bit about that and why that’s important?

Peter Pereira Gray

Well, I am very excited about what Wellcome does in South Cambridgeshire.  We have something called the Sanger Centre which is the country leading genomics research institute.  It’s recognised as one of the top research institutes in the world and probably has the largest concentration of scientists working on genomics and biodata.  And Wellcome, at the moment, which I am leading is bringing forward a plan, working with South Cambridgeshire to significantly invest in and expand that campus and I think that that is very exciting clearly for Wellcome that we would be able to do more but also for South Cambridgeshire and the partnership we have with them and cementing that cluster as truly world class.  But looking at it in a wider environment with some of the challenges that the UK has leaving aside COVID-19, a separation from Europe over time, looking for an identity, this is a major piece of global infrastructure for the benefit of locals, for Wellcome clearly, for the country and also for the world because the research that we are doing in those centres and that which will be done by partners and other occupiers alongside us, will truly change our understanding of science and lead us to better healthcare outcomes for humankind which is actually what Wellcome is all about so it’s a complete privilege to be involved with a real estate professional background to bring forward a site that we have owned for many, many years at this moment of real need for society and to look to deploy our investment moneys to earn a fair return but also to make a huge difference to society so it’s very rare that one can invest in such a way that it is consistent with our mission but here’s an opportunity and it’s one I am really passionate about. 

Susan Freeman

That does sound exciting and just to put it in context, I mean, how large will this facility be and how many people do you think will be deployed there? 

Peter Pereira Gray

So, at the moment we have a new order of – I’ll give you round numbers – in the order of 800,000 feet on the campus and we’ve looked to expand that up to around 2.4 million square feet of research and development facilities.  One of the things that I have enjoyed most about this is thinking through how one can create such a development for the modern world thinking about the built environment, thinking about climate change issues and one of the really exciting things is here that we are working with South Cambridgeshire District Council to also put 1500 homes alongside that development and so will have an integrated and holistic estate management scheme which enables workers on that site to live and work adjacent to those research facilities and literally walk to work and hopefully lots of trees, lots of green but creating an environment that is very efficient and effective and productive but also is much greener and cleaner because there won’t be the need for cars in the same way, we will have many people on site and so we would expect something in the order of 4,000 workers over time there and 1500 units with obviously quite a lot of people living in those units over time. 

Susan Freeman

Well, that really is exciting and as you say, you know, particularly important that we have those sort of facilities here in the UK.  Staying on the topic of COVID-19, I know that Wellcome Trust have been spearheading the fundraising for $8 billion to find a vaccine and I think you have been involved with that.  How is that going?

Peter Pereira Gray

Well, thank you for raising that.  Wellcome of course is involved in many different ways, we founded with Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation something called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation a number of years ago that has absolutely come to the fore and the need for that organisation has never been clearer in the work that we need to do on COVID-19 and then just a few weeks ago, as you mentioned, we founded or launched an initiative called the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator launching that with, again, the Gates Foundation and with Mastercard.  Wellcome contributed $50 million to that and the good news is that we are collecting significant investments from major forces around the world, I mentioned Mastercard, DFID, our own Government has made a major contribution, Chan Zuckerberg has made a major contribution and the exciting thing is that through the advocacy work that we have done in Europe especially, the European Commission has just agreed to run a pledging conference at the beginning of May for donor Governments and others to come together to assist in this initiative so I think we can speak for a significant portion of that 8 billion already and we are very hoping that we will see that target reached in just a couple of weeks’ time. 

Susan Freeman

Does this give you any insight or anything, you know, that you are able to tell us in terms of the timing of this because we hear such different things about when there is going to be a vaccine and how that’s going to effect the lockdown exit strategy?

Peter Pereira Gray

Yeah, this is the 64 million dollar question, perhaps it’s the 64 trillion dollar question these days, isn’t it Susan?  So, I’m not a medical scientist but I am privileged to work with a number of the world’s leading thinkers on some of this topic so, what I can say is that we’ve got a greater global collaboration around solving the problems of this virus than we have ever seen before, there’s fantastic transmission of information and data and really remarkable achievements right now so if I give you one small metric that when one is trying to develop a vaccine, particularly a vaccine for a population where the vast majority of the population will fight this off with their own immune system without needing medical intervention, one clearly has a very high bar that one needs to set to ensure that it is safe for that population.  Normally, it might take three years or so to get to a point where the first human trial is initiated.  The world has managed to do this in day 68, I believe, just to give you a measure of how fast we are moving but with the collaboration and the support and the innovation that is going around this, there are many, many initiatives now to bring forward a vaccine, Wellcome is supporting quite a number of those financially and one needs to be careful about using the word ‘optimism’ because vaccines are extraordinary difficult things and we have not yet had a coronavirus vaccine despite the fact the world has been looking for one for well over twenty years, I believe, but we do feel that with what we are hearing and learning and with the global collaboration and sharing, we feel we can be as optimistic as one ever could be that there will be a vaccine that will come forward and will make a difference.  So, that is something we would hope to see come to fruition over the following months towards the end of the year and then there will be a significant production question as to how we get it in scale into populations and I am not that well qualified to talk about that but I think we feel that it is a real possibility that a vaccine can be created.  Of course, that’s not the only thing that we need to be trying to do, we also need a therapeutic solution and a therapeutic solution means essentially what the treatment is if you turn up with COVID symptoms.  It’s a combination of a therapeutic and a vaccine which will lead us to reduce anxiety levels in populations and get us back to work.  If we all felt more confident about going back and doing what we did, albeit I am sure now we will do it in a different way in the knowledge there was a therapeutic then I think that would help immensely so it’s that two pronged approach of a therapeutic and a vaccine and clearly what we do have with this extraordinary high level now of hospital admissions around the globe and very sadly now a very high level of deaths, there’s quite a high level of understanding now of this illness but there are still some huge uncertainties but we are very much hoping that we will be able to develop a therapeutic protocol for people and combined with a vaccine in due course, it gives us something of a medical science exit for this virus.  How the world exits economically from this virus of course is really fascinating, this is the first recession that I can think of which actually has been caused by a Government, normally it’s a business cycle that is playing its way through the normal course of events but this one has been active intervention by Governments to create a very serious economic shock to the global environment and I find it intellectually intriguing that we know this is a massive deflationary shock and to be sitting here looking at my Bloomberg screen right now telling me the S&P 500 is only down about 11% at this point, that’s really quite extraordinary because the earning shock this year 2020 and I suspect for some sectors going into 2021 is going to be significantly more than an 11% shock to their revenues so it’s quite a rich tapestry to play with right now trying to work out what wins and what doesn’t win going forward. 

Susan Freeman

I think rich tapestry is quite a good way of describing it and I know one of the things that we’ve talked about is that this virus problem is something that, you know, the Chinese, you know, in Asia they are much more accustomed to dealing with, it’s happened before, they had preventative measures they put in place it seems to become, you know, part of life there.  Are there any lessons that we should particularly be learning from Asia?

Peter Pereira Gray

I think it’s inevitable that there will be significant enquiries round the developed western world as to how countries and regions have handled this particular virus, this pandemic, and I think if we are honest we should look at Korea in particular as a country that stands out for the way in which it’s handled this, its testing regime, its ability to track its population to advise them on who they may have been in contact with and of course that does come from experience and the reality of much of our lives, just even in our private lives, is we tend to learn best from real personal experiences rather than reading about things and I suspect because Korea has had to live with these things and had a particular incident a number of years ago, it was not caught flatfooted, shall I say, in how to deal with this.  There are some world class healthcare systems across the world and each has responded in its own slightly specific way and it’s just so incredibly sad to see healthcare systems that are world class being overwhelmed and quite so many deaths but I am pretty sure there will be a very thorough investigation and I really hope that the world will be far better prepared in the event that we face something else like this. 

Susan Freeman

It sounds as if it is something that will recur and I have heard people describe it as a warm-up for the climate change and the sort of things that climate change will throw at us so, perhaps we should move onto that topic which is what I thought was going to be our key focus when we agreed to do this interview originally and then obviously things moved on but I know that the climate emergency is something that you are passionate about and one of my concerns is that whilst we all seem to wake up on the 1st January realising that we really did need to do something about saving the planet, is that going to go onto the backburner because of, you know, the immediate problems we’ve got in coping with the COVID crisis?

Peter Pereira Gray

So that’s a great question, Susan and I will give you a very firm answer to the effect that I hope not, I hope it does not go onto the backburner, the world faces a very significant challenge here and we will need to do our bit.  Of course, we’ve talked about COVID a lot in the last few minutes, there is another huge geopolitical shock that is going on as we talk about COVID and that is what is happening with oil and the glut of oil and the quite extraordinary oil crisis that we are seeing and we are trying to work and so you have got these to extraordinary shocks through COVID and with oil going on that the risk of course is that as the oil crisis is driven down by dramatic reductions in demand, the economic efficiency of some of the renewable energy possibilities for society going forward are pushed out a bit and so what is going to be very important is that Governments and corporates alike continue to keep their energy levels high in relation to finding solutions for better climate solutions.  Wellcome, of course, is hugely interested in this, we are a medical research charity, we fully understand the impact that energy has on outcomes for human beings and it’s a delicate balance because we fully recognise that access and availability of energy which has traditionally been available through the burning of fossil fuels, has greatly improved human health outcomes, right?  Access to warmth and energy has been great but at the same time, the use and the prevalence today has now built carbon dioxide atmospheric caution to levels which is clearly causing the climate a problem and so as we think about what we are prepared to invest in and what we are not prepared to invest in, climate change is now one of our key filters, call it the key metrics, for the way in which we think about a company and we are active in thinking about the right of a company to exist, we call it the concept of licence to operate and we think about lots of issues as we invest in any company in respect of their licence to operate, how do they treat their customers, how do they treat their employees, how do they treat their shareholders, how do they treat society, how do they treat Paris, what are their targets around efficiency in their business and the like and so we put all that into a mix to work out what we are prepared to hold as investments for the Wellcome portfolio and where companies that do have fossil fuels aren’t behaving as well as we think they could and should, we have sold out of those but companies would be seen as traditional fossil fuel investments and therefore wouldn’t please everyone if they heard me say this but where they are behaving well and listening to us and engaging and changing their behaviours, we can see them as energy companies of the future and improving conditions then we are prepared to hold those companies in our portfolio but that is a nuanced position on many, people tend to be either on the engagement side of the debate on the divestment side of the debate, we actually feel there is a place in the middle ground to do both and we try ever so carefully to get that balance right but it is a challenge. 

Susan Freeman

And since the last time I saw you, in real life, you were on a panel talking about climate change and you were holding the Greta Thunberg book and asking the property audience whether anybody had actually read it so I guess from that you feel that perhaps the property industry needs to be doing a little bit… a little bit more to actually cut down on carbon footprints?

Peter Pereira Gray

Susan, that was a fascinating little moment on a panel, it was a bit cheeky of me wasn’t it to hold that little book up?  It cost £2.50 from almost any bookseller that you go into and it’s a very interesting… it’s a very quick read because the message is the same in each of her speeches but I was surprised, I will admit, that we go so few hands go up in an audience of what must have been 200/250 people, all of whom had come knowing that that was one of the topics that was going to be discussed and therefore perhaps they had something of interest and so I thought that such a small smattering of hands was quite telling.  We need to understand that the built environment is a huge contributor to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Some studies say up to 40% comes from the built environment but we also need to understand that the built environment is incredibly important to public health and where we live and where we work, our homes, our buildings, our streets, our open spaces, our infrastructure, they all flow through to human health and I suspect actually that as a result of COVID, as a result of us all living and working in a very different pattern than we are used to, that might be a bit higher on the agenda right now as we think about what is important to us and how we might change the way we develop our buildings and how we run and how we manage those buildings and I think that climate and health of communities go together and I would love to see the property industry grasp this and take it really seriously.  I do believe it is possible to develop well and I do believe it is possible to provide structures and environments that can be more innovative and have a lower adverse impact on the climate and I think it’s incumbent upon those that are allocating funds to seek those innovative solutions out and I believe that it’s likely that there’ll be an appropriate investment return on doing so. 

Susan Freeman

Let’s hope so and let’s hope that people just don’t go back to doing what they were doing and forget.  Now, earlier on in the conversation, you were talking about your interest in innovation and I know that you have a particular interest in drones and robotics and you are an advisor to H Robotics which is a UK startup Co-founded by Dr Pippa Malmgren who has been a previous podcast guest. 

Peter Pereira Gray

Has she, right.

Susan Freeman

She has.  So, it does seem that the current crisis has accelerated a lot of things, including the interest in drones and robotics and technology generally.  Are you seeing that?  Do you think it has accelerated people’s interest in using that sort of technology?

Peter Pereira Gray

Oh, unequivocally there’s much more inbound interest now in our small little, small little company.  We’ve even got Government announcements for seeking companies such as ours to make themselves known and funding available in a way that hasn’t been before.  I do love innovation and I do think it is a critically important that we continue to innovate and I think that, for example, the use of drones I can see areas where that can make a contribution to reduced impact on climate as we’ve just been talking about, right?  Why fly a helicopter at the cost of several thousand pounds an hour and a significant adverse impact on the climate when you can fly a small little drone with a small battery in it and you can be closer to the thing that you are monitoring and I think that that’s just a very small simple example of why you are going to see the use of these robotic instruments, some that fly, we’ve also developed one that floats and we’ve developed one that goes on land so we cover all land, air and sea in our company.  This is really all about data collection and data management.  It’s about understanding situational awareness if you ask me about it.  The opportunity to collect data and information and to share that to understand the ability to attach sensors to drones and to use it as a monitoring tool but I don’t want to have people nervous that that, it’s just a surveillance tool, it’s far, far more than that and I shouldn’t be overly promoting H Robotics but I do think it is one of a kind, it is a platform and it’s very exciting what you can do with that product and you can really clip things on and clip things off and that’s remarkably interesting for a whole load of different public sector users in particular so you could see it in use by the Fire Brigade in monitoring fires and getting into places that it’s dangerous to send people, you can see it in use in monitoring beaches and water thoroughfares, you can see them in the future collecting data, you can see them actually as communication tools, you can connect to megaphones to them and talk to people from a distance so, I suspect over time we will all have to get used to it, whether we will see drones going down our streets carrying pizzas in the way in which some people say we might, I am actually not sure, I worry about the public health consequences of that, they are dangerous tools, they need to have been designed really well and I do worry about what happens if one came down on someone so, you need built in stability mechanisms and cut outs and the like to ensure that doesn’t happen.  We have actually developed a parachute for one of ours in order to reduce those sorts of risks but transporting medical supplies, mountain rescue, RNLI, there’s a lot of things that you can do, you can monitor things at night with infrared cameras that you can’t do in the day so much more efficiently and productively so, I find it a fascinating area and I guess I would have to say I am hopeful that this will be embraced by society so, thank you for asking. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, now I was going to ask you about drone deliveries so, thank you for answering that one.  Just, going back to some of the companies within the Wellcome portfolio, you actually run some of those businesses, you are Chairman of Premier Marinas and also of the farming business, what are the sort of issues you are seeing at the moment just trying to, you know, run these companies through a sort of pretty unprecedented situation as we have discussed?  What are the key issues that are coming up?

Peter Pereira Gray

Well, I think Susan, you are dead right, no one would have anticipated this.  I think the most important thing to do if you are running a business today is to be clear about what your moral compass is and so our number one priority is to look after our staff.  In the Marina business which is primarily leisure but we do have commercial customers, we are open for commercial customers and shut for our leisure customers.  That brings a particularly tricky logistics and dynamics.  We’ve tried very, very hard to avoid redundancy.  We have only taken furlough where we think that there is a moral imperative, if you like, to do so and that we are using the scheme appropriately.  We are clearing having to monitor and be very careful about our capex costs at this point and we need to keep our staff on board with what is happening.  I am incredibly impressed with the management team we have there and the communication strategy that is being employed but fundamentally it is difficult when you are shut but you still have your customers’ boats in your marina and you are still providing a service to the customer, right?  And that’s worth looking through because it’s complicated because farming is different and actually it’s much easier to continue to keep a farm open because physical distancing is much less of a challenge in the relatively wide open spaces that you have available on a farm and actually we need to keep that going and so I am very pleased that we have been able to keep that going – well, the partners who are farming our farms, are keeping that going – but there are challenges across the industry and those are just two little insights, of course, Wellcome also has an exposure today to student housing and looking at what is happening at universities, looking at what is happening to students, we are facing challenges that really haven’t been faced by these industry subsectors before so it’s very, very important that we all behave appropriately to ultimately the customer because I am 100% confident that there will be some long memories and as we hear rumours of major retailers who have declined to pay the rent to their landlords when they are well able to do so, versus the small retailers that are still trying to pay their rent, I think you will find that the retail industry will have a long memory when it comes to dealing with those, with some of those players and I would very much want Wellcome to have a very high moral integrity position which is that we treated everyone as well as we possibly could and ultimately, of course, this is business, Susan and so my aspiration for all the businesses that we are involved with, that they will actually come out of this challenge more strongly relative to their peer group than they were when they went into it and I think that will be the ultimate test of how a management team has behaved.

Susan Freeman

I think that’s really sound advice.  So, I have a final question for you, Peter, since, you know, clearly you haven’t got very much on your plate at the moment, are there any new challenges that you would be looking to take on?

Peter Pereira Gray

Oh gosh.  So, Susan I am incredibly privileged to have the breadth of interests that I have right across the globe really and right now one has more than one’s hands full but I am passionate about one or two things and very, very keen to see them brought to fruition whilst I am at Wellcome.  The South Cambridgeshire Hinxton development is going to be a huge initiative for all the reasons that I explained.  I do have a role which if I may just finish on, which is as Co-Chair of something called the Institutional Investors Roundtable.  That’s an incredibly important group of long-term global asset owners that speak for an extraordinarily large amount of money combined across the 45 to 50 or so members and that group exists and has done for ten years or so to enhance collaboration directly between institution investors and obviously we have been interrupted in our programme, as everyone else has, as we get to know each other physically but we are looking at how we maintain our relationships virtually but we are taking on some really significant challenges across the globe and so the climate change topic, which we won’t repeat here, is right at the top of the agenda because whilst one has the privilege of being Co-Chair of that, one can influence agendas and I am incredibly excited to have, and grateful to the UK Government for supporting this initiative, I can tell you that on the back of that, we have major Governments around the world also looking to support the Institutional Investors Roundtable and so if there is anything I would like to do and the challenge for me, if you like, is to try and harness connectivity between Governments and long-term global investors because I think, on the whole, they don’t talk to each other, they don’t come across each other as much as they should and with the challenges we have in front of us right now, it’s going to take some significant coordination, it’s going to take some significant capital and it’s going to take some significant policy decisions to bring the world back into a place where we are economically sustainable again and I think the opportunity for the Institutional Investors Roundtable to sit at sort of the nexus of philanthropy, business and public sector through governance I think is incredibly valuable to have a forum like this and so, what is my greatest challenge is in the time they are prepared to keep me in this role, we’ve collected a few more Governments, we’ve got a truly global perspective and we are able to deploy capital appropriately to earn a fair return, Governments get something of that, they get to think about the policies which really make a difference and actually the whole of society is better off for this collaboration to that would be a challenge that I relish so, I hope that’s a reasonable answer to your question.

Susan Freeman

I can’t think of a better collaboration actually to be working on, Peter so, thank you very much and thank you for your time, I know you are incredibly busy at the moment so, thank you for talking to me today. 

Peter Pereira Gray

Thank you very much, Susan. 

Susan Freeman

So, thank you to Peter Pereira Gray for talking to us so candidly about his amazing role in investing for Wellcome Trust to fund their incredibly important medical research and what a great opportunity he has to bring governments and global investors together in what must be the ultimate collaboration so I am definitely going to be keeping in touch with Peter as the COVID crisis unfolds and we emerge from lockdown. 

So, that’s it for now.  I really hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please all stay safe and join us for the next PropertyShe podcast coming very shortly. 

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your Apple podcast app, and on Spotify and whichever podcast app you use.  Please continue to let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe for a regular commentary on all things real estate, Prop Tech and the built environment.

Peter J Pereira Gray, FRICS, FRSA, FInstCPD

Peter Pereira Gray is Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer of the Investment Division of the Wellcome Trust.

Peter has been a member of Wellcome’s Investment Committee for over 19 years and is a member of Wellcome’s Executive Leadership Team. Together with the Chief Investment Officer, Peter has joint accountability for the $35 billion global unconstrained multi-asset investment portfolio, and the leadership of the Investment Division. Wellcome is recognised to have one of the strongest long-term investment track records of its type in the world.  

Peter currently leads Wellcome’s initiative to obtain planning consent to extend its research facilities in South Cambridgeshire where critical genome sequencing and bioinformatic analysis is being undertaken on the CoVid 19 virus. 

Peter was appointed co-chairman of the Institutional Investors Roundtable (IIR) in November 2018. The IIR is a not for profit, invitation only forum for the senior executives of global asset owners. The mission of the IIR is to improve collaboration opportunities between governments, philanthropy and investors, and speaks for some $13 trillion of assets amongst its 45 members.

Peter is the chairman of the 20,000 acre UK farming & land management business, FarmCare Ltd, and chairman of Premier Marinas Ltd, the leading UK marina, boatyard and storage company with 9 marinas on the south coast.

Peter is a main board Director of iQ, the UK student housing joint venture with Goldman Sachs; one of the largest purpose-built student housing providers in the UK. The business is under contract to Blackstone, the US private equity investor at the current time.

Peter is a member of the advisory Board for the Global Projects Centre at Stanford University, and an honorary vice president of the Cambridge University Land Society.

Peter is an adviser to HRobotics Ltd, the innovative UK start up providing fully autonomous aerial intelligence and universal data management systems.  

Peter is a past chairman of the Investment Property Forum and was a regular member of the Bank of England Commercial and Residential Property Forums. He is a current member of the RICS Commercial Property Forum.

How can we help you?

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

COVID-19 Enquiry

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select a contact method

I'm a client

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter an email address
Please enter your phone number
Please enter a value

I'm looking for advice

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please select a department
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select a contact method

Something else

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select your contact method of choice