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December 1997


Jethro Tull leader prefers salmon farming to securities holdings

Ian Anderson, the flutist, singer, songwriter and leader of the rock group Jethro Tull for 30 years, has shunned the extravagance often associated with rock stardom. He has invested the income from his music in fish farming and has interests in a spice business and wildlife conservation. He spoke with Barbara Wall about his business activities.

What were some of your earliest investments?

"The band had to pay off a lot of debt during the first few years of commercial success, so it wasn't until the mid-1970s that individual band members began to realize a cash surplus. Some spent the money ill-advisably; others, including myself, had fairly modest requirements.

"My first major investment was a farm in Buckinghamshire, England. It is still my main residence. Before becoming a home-owner, I rented a two-room apartment in London. Because of my Scottish upbringing, I was also keen to have an address in Scotland, so I later acquired the Strathaird Estate on the Isle of Skye.

"I would not describe the Strathaird Estate as an investment. I certainly didn't expect to make any money from it. The intention was to support the running costs of the estate through the development of its natural resources. After considering a number of business options, I decided to have a go at salmon farming — anything, but tourism!

"The salmon farm was a great success. The next move was to get involved in fish processing. It was not a particularly glamorous move, but the processing side of the business helped us to survive after the prosperity of the boom years of salmon farming in Scotland."

Strathaird Ltd., which encompasses three factories and four fish-processing plants, employs 400 people. What difficulties have you experienced in managing such a large enterprise?

"Managing a fish-production business is not that different from music management. It involves the same sort of accountancy procedures and financial-planning requirements. As the business grew, however, the social responsibilities became quite onerous.

"The lives and fortunes of 400 people now depend on the success of Strathaird Ltd. Often difficult and unpopular decisions have to be made. I am not very good at management, so I had to be disciplined and leave the day-to-day running of the business to an experienced team of people.

"One of Jethro Tull's tour managers asked me for a job in the fish business. He went to college and did a postgraduate course in business management and now manages the fish farms. The chairman has also brought a lot of experience and maturity to the business. He has inspired the work force and business community with confidence. This is probably something that I could not do given my non-business background.

"I did take one year off from music — 1985 — to devote full-time to the estate. This was at a crucial stage in the commercial development of our fish-processing arm. Since then, I have limited my involvement to two days a month."

Do you have any conventional investments, such as stocks and bonds?

"My wife is interested in equity-based investing. She has a typically balanced portfolio of investments, which includes mainly blue-chip stocks. I have no interest whatsoever in this area. I would far rather use my money for the broader good. I find it personally more satisfying to invest in other people than in stocks. If I was forced to invest in the stock market, I would certainly try and avoid investing in certain companies. I would not, for example, invest in tobacco stocks. As a serious ex-smoker, I have strong views about the ethics of tobacco sponsorship and tobacco advertising. I am aware of the likelihood that cigarettes represent the biggest threat to my health, even though I gave up smoking years ago."

Do you pay yourself a salary from Strathaird Ltd., or do you rely solely on what you make from music for income?

"I have always been dependent on music for my livelihood. Any profit made from my other business activities is put back into farming research and development.

"I aim to earn at least £1 million ($1.6 million) a year from music. Out of this sum, I generally pay myself about £250,000."

Can you see yourself following David Bowie's example and selling your rights to royalties from your music for a lump sum?

"The same people that approached Bowie also approached Jethro Tull. No doubt they approached other rock artists as well. The proposal did not appeal to me in the slightest. There is no way that I would sell out for a chunk of money. I want to develop my music further and stay in the driving seat.

"I suspect that there will be a serious attempt to buy some of my other business interests in the next few years, particularly the salmon-processing business. We are the second-largest salmon-processing company in Britain. If I had to put a figure on the value of my global interests in fish farming and processing it would be between £10 million and £20 million.

"It may be the case that I get an offer that is difficult to refuse, but my gut feeling is that I will be loathe to relinquish control."

What are your plans for the future?

"I will be in the studio for the next few months. As far as my other activities are concerned, I would like to press ahead with a new company: The Pepper Garden. The idea behind the venture is to introduce new varieties of fresh spices to the British market. My particular interest is in different varieties of hot chili peppers.

"I am also looking at the possibility of setting-up a wildlife conservation trust. I am particularly interested in helping protect endangered wild cats."