Voices of the London Bullion Market – Grant Angwin

Aelred Connelly

By Aelred Connelly
PR Officer, LBMA

The Voices of the London Bullion Market project brilliantly captures and contextualises the changes and development of the bullion market through the eyes of those who worked in it. So far in the series, we have featured the voices of 11 people from the market and, in this latest in the series, we reflect on Grant Angwin’s career in the bullion market.

Grant Angwin was born in Edmonton, North London in 1963 to parents Donald and Joanna, and went on to spend his formative years living in Hertford, Herts. His father was a director of a small trading company in the City and his mother worked in a laboratory doing blood testing. Distracted by some of life’s attractions, Grant left school before taking his A levels, with aspirations in the field of science.

He spotted an advert in the local paper for an assistant role at Johnson Matthey’s lab (and principal smelting operation) in Brimsdown, North London. Following a rather informal and casual interview (not like those of today), he was immediately offered the job.

This career move, no doubt inspired by his mother’s occupation, resulted in Grant starting work in the lab in 1980, initially assaying silver (the easiest of the precious metals), then gold and PGMs, thus beginning an association with precious metals that has lasted more than 40 years.

Grant starting work in the lab in 1980 initially assaying silver thus beginning an association with precious metals that has lasted more than 40 years

No computers, no internet

Grant’s main recollection of those early days in his new job was that silver prices hit highs of $50/oz in 1980. In those days, there was no sophisticated technology, just primitive computers and no internet, which meant that information was thin on the ground. This was a time when you were told what to do, you didn’t ask any questions, and Grant learnt not to ask where huge quantities of silver were coming from or where they were going. Only years later did he learn that the silver was dishoarding from India and there was a general melting down of the material from around the world, as people cashed in on the high silver price.

Grant quickly realised that a lot of the people working in the lab, although very good people, had been there a very long time and were clearly just biding their time towards a comfortable retirement. But Grant was young and ambitious, and after three years, he was eager to spread his wings. Three jobs became available at the Royston plant and Grant covered all bases by applying for all three!! One was refining palladium, called Lab Four, one was in the Engine Area of the burgeoning auto-catalyst business (incidentally now the backbone of business for Johnson Matthey) and the final one was in the back office processing customer settlements. Grant was ruled out of working in Lab Four because he suffered from hay fever, which may have been aggravated by working with platinum salts.

He was offered the other two roles and chose the back office role on the grounds that they would honour the ‘London Weighting’ he was currently receiving (Brimsdown being considered as having the same draw as the City!).

Further Education

Grant had hoped to continue his education with a day release scheme but was told by his manager, Albert Russell: “Boy, this is the real world, if you come to work here Monday to Friday, we can’t have people taking time off to go and do studies.”

After some persuasion he did, however, agree to sponsor Grant to undertake a Business Administration Finance course – on the condition that he did it in the evenings after work. Grant recalls little in the way of formal training in the lab but remembers much more of a mentoring approach in the back office. “I wasn’t allowed to write a telex without my supervisor seeing it, I wasn’t allowed to answer the phone without him being there, I wasn’t allowed to make a telephone call without him being there.

It was a very slow induction. I have to say that overall it was a good one. In this day and age, I don’t think companies have the time [to mentor staff?].”

It was a very different working environment too. There were no computers, just mounds of paper. Grant was ever conscious to be very careful not to make a mistake when undertaking pricing a deal, as it could be very expensive if a decimal place was in inserted in the wrong place. The back office was part of the Customer Service Department, which came under the umbrella of the Commercial Area, which included the Sales and Marketing teams.

Ultimately, reporting was through the Sales and Marketing Director, John Fairley, who incidentally is still active in the market today, in his capacity as a consultant for the LPPM.

Grant remembers getting to know some of the managers who worked in the Sales and Marketing team, who were responsible for securing contracts, i.e. the logistics and terms relating to the material being sent to them. These friendships helped him secure a new a role on the team in the mid-1980s. The sales manager would travel to North America or other areas sourcing business and then come back and say: “We need this contract putting together” or “You need to send a quote out.” So Grant quickly learnt on the job how much it would cost to treat this material and the terms on which contracts could be put together. It proved a great progression from the laboratory handling the material to negotiating deals with the customers.

Grant remembers that the smelting business was awash with material flooding in from North America. Despite being a global powerhouse, North America lacked its own local smelting arrangements and instead relied on facilities in Europe, particularly those in the UK, Germany and France.

“Boy, this is the real world, if you come to work here Monday to Friday, we can’t have people taking time off to go and do studies.”

Head North Young Man

In 1987, Grant was promoted to the position of UK Sales Representative for the refining business in the north of England, handling silver in lots of anything from 5 to 5,000 kilos. With its own transport infrastructure and smelting facilities, Johnson Matthey was well equipped to handle and process such huge quantities of silver. As Grant recalls: “They gave me a company car and said ‘head North young man!’.”

Not long after taking on the role, Grant remembers one of their major competitors, Engelhard, exiting the business and Johnson Matthey taking considerable quantities of material from the Engelhard sites including France, Italy and the US. As Grant recalls: “I don’t think the industry will ever see anything like that again. I never quite knew how they had so much, whether they had so much and stopped treating it themselves, but there were huge volumes in terms of weight and precious metal content. Complex PGM residues containing all the PGM in double-digit percentages. Even back then the values were mind blowing.”

Grant enjoyed the variety of work that the role offered. “One minute I would be having a cup of tea, sitting on a crate talking to a private individual who owns a photo-processing facility where he recovers silver, which is the excess from the industry, and turns it into silver flake, typically 97/98% pure silver, to see if I could get that business to come to Johnson Matthey, rather than one of the other competitors. And the next minute, I would be sitting in Runcorn talking to the Head of Precious Metals at ICI, because at that point, ICI was a major industrial chemical company and a significant user of precious metals.” Talking and networking with clients were key to the role, just as they are still today (think networking at LBMA conferences!!!)


Swapping a Car for a Passport

Grant identifies that the next phase in his career led him to where he is now in the gold industry. John Fairley and Bill Sandford recognised that the mining industry was developing in areas where Johnson Matthey didn’t have a refinery. Its main gold refinery in the UK was based at Royston, which serviced the gold that came out of the residues that were sent into Brimsdown and then a little bit of refining taking place in Hatton Gardens and Birmingham, but it was designed more as an in-house plant rather than a commercial refinery. John and Bill identified that the growing markets were Africa and South America, and asked Grant: “Would you like to swap your company car for a passport?” So in 1990, passport in hand, Grant headed off to bring in more suitable material to be refined in the Royston refinery.

The Only Way is Up

So began a career of international plane travel. At the last count, Grant reckons he has visited more than 70 different countries, predominantly for work. He has visited every country in South America except for Paraguay and French Guinea, as well as nearly all countries in Africa. Owing to the sterling reputation of Johnson Matthey, Grant found it relatively easy to set up meetings with people. You could say that the proverbial doors opened just as easily as the plane doors.

In a twist of irony, Grant’s later career, which saw him based in North America, actually came about as a result of the closure of the refining facility in Royston. Towards the end of the 1990s, the gold price collapsed, hitting a low in 2000 of $252, compared to a price more than double that of a decade earlier and three times that in the early 1980s. As the gold price nose-dived, the Royston refinery began to spiral downward and the scrap business dried up which coincided with the re-emergence of mining in Africa and South America. In September 2004, Johnson Matthey shut the Royston refinery and switched its business model to focus on the platinum group metals. This continues to be the nucleus of its business today.

Whilst the decision was inevitable, it still came as a shock to Grant to see the Royston refinery close. It had after all been there for nearly 50 years, ever since it moved from Hatton Garden in 1957. It also brought about the closure of the last Good Delivery refinery in the UK.

Due to changing transport routes, Grant and Johnson Matthey were able to transfer significant quantities of refining from Royston to the last two remaining Johnson Matthey refineries in North America – Salt Lake City and Toronto.

Panoramic view across Salt Lake City.

Emigrating to the US

Once the business began to migrate to North America, Grant was asked to stay with Johnson Matthey and move to the Salt Lake City refinery. His initial role was Sales and Marketing Director for the two refineries, based in Salt Lake City. Then within six weeks, he was offered the position of General Manager. So Grant never really got to do the job that he went over there to do!!. He also found that he had to acclimatise to a different culture to that in the UK; in fact, the only thing he found the same was the language.

Grant’s next role was the position of President of Gold North America, which included responsibility for the Brampton facility just outside Toronto, as well as a small precision casting business in Niagara Falls (the similarity to Johnson Matthey’s business is that it had furnaces and that is about it).

Reflecting on the demise of the refinery at Royston, Grant doesn’t believe that it negatively impacted on the London market, largely because the market had already evolved into a more global, international market. There are, for example, many more international Good Delivery List refineries than when Johnson Matthey closed its operation. Improved transport links mean that input and output materials can be moved very easily around the globe and relatively inexpensively.

In 2015, Johnson Matthey exited the gold business entirely. At one point, Johnson Matthey had six LBMA accredited Good Delivery refineries located on four continents. The business was ultimately sold to Asahi, Japan. In 2019, Grant left Asahi and set
up his own consulting business, drawing on all his knowledge of
the global precious metals business.

Grant reckons he has visited more than 70 different countries

Life with LBMA

In recent years, as well as his day job Grant has also been an active supporter of the industry in his capacity as a member of various LBMA Boards and Committees. Always close to the heart of LBMA, he joined LBMA’s Management Committee in June 2011 and then three years later became the first and, probably the last, Chairman from the Full Membership and a non-financial/ trading organisation.

He went on to serve as Chair from July 2014 to January 2017, the last six months as Co-chair with the current Chairman, Paul Fisher.

During his tenure as both a member of the Committee and as Chair, he was heavily involved in the transition from the London Fixes to independently run price auctions, initially with silver, and then followed by the remaining metals. He also presided over the biggest change in the governance of LBMA, which occurred in 2016 when the introduction of an Independent Chairman and Non-Executive Director occurred. This was the beginning of a journey and not the end point. This change was driven by the misadventures of financial institutions and the continuing push for a more transparent industry. Grant doubts that LBMA will have to wait nearly 30 years to enact the next major change.

He believes that the world of private business has changed since 2016. Increasingly, the pressure is on all organisations to justify their social licence to operate. That is, he thinks, being reflected in issues as varied as gender and racial diversity, environmental impact, including climate change, and taking care of employee mental health.

One might have expected the 2020 pandemic to divert such attention elsewhere, but in some respects, Grant feels as though they have become even more focused.

In the past, where businesses might have complained that this agenda simply threatened to add unnecessary costs to production, adversely affecting the economy. But, increasingly, these ‘social’ issues are being treated as pro business.

Grant regularly participates on webinars on the topics of Responsible Sourcing and ESG matters, having assumed the role of an Independent Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Health, Safety, Environmental, Social and Sustainability Committee of a large public silver producer.

LBMA Silver Anniversary Dinner, 2012.

In Summary

From surrendering the opportunity to take his A levels and instead joining Johnson Matthey in 1980, Grant concedes that “once you start earning a wage, it is pretty difficult to give it up, even if it wasn’t initially a very big wage slip”. If anyone had told him at the time that he would end up working for Johnson Matthey for more than 30 years and become the President of Gold North America and Chairman of LBMA, he says that, at the time, he would have replied: “No, I won’t be here that long, that isn’t in my sights.” His is a very interesting journey, with lots of little anecdotal stories from across the globe. Oh, and we leave you with the fact that his mother, who inspired him all those years ago, continues to inspire him today. She joined Grant in the Cotswold’s for Christmas 2021 and on 1 February celebrated her 92nd birthday.

“Once you start earning a wage, it is pretty difficult to give it up, even if it wasn’t initially a very big wage slip.”

In June 2011 and then three years later Grant became the first and, probably the last, Chairman from the Full Membership.

Aelred Connelly

By Aelred Connelly
PR Officer, LBMA

Aelred provides support to the Chief Executive in the administration and organisation of the Association's Public Affairs. This includes working closely with the Marketing and Communications Lead on publications, marketing material, the website and events. He is responsible for Press enquiries and is the editor for the LBMA's quarterly publication, the Alchemist.