Peter Taylor-Whiffen 1 Nov 2017 12:39pm

The philanthropist

Richard Ross gave a quarter of his personal wealth to charity. But, he tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen, every little bit helps and accountants can be an influence for good
When it comes to encouraging people to use money for good,” says Richard Ross, “accountants have more influence than anyone else. Helping to put something back and seeing the huge impact that has on improving our world is not just a wonderful privilege – it’s a responsibility.”

Ross certainly practices what he preaches. Thirty years ago his family firm set up a trust, which channels the company’s profits into cutting-edge medical research. So far, with the help of co-donors, the trust has donated £350m and Ross himself famously gave away nearly a quarter of his personal wealth in one year.

But philanthropy, he says, is within the reach of everyone. “You don’t have to be rich, or start out by giving a lot. It doesn’t even need to be money – it can be time. Just making that first move is the biggest step.”

The idea of helping others was instilled at an early age. His parents, the children of immigrant Poles, started from nothing in the 1930s to build up property finance firm Regentsmead, which Ross joined as their accountant after an accounting degree at the LSE and articles with London firm Landau Morley and Scott.

“My parents were always keen to give people opportunities in the business, to train youngsters up from nothing,” he says. “And on their golden wedding, in 1987, they wanted to show the appreciation for the opportunities they’d had in England, so set up the Rosetrees Trust.”

Since its inception, the trust has worked with medical scientists to bankroll research. “We work with fantastic professors, some of medicine’s cleverest minds – but because their work is so innovative, they can’t get funding. So we put a relatively small amount in, get some research data, and then the professor can go to the Wellcome Trust or whoever for the major grant.”

Ross, who lives in Hampstead, north London, has chaired both company and trust since his father’s death. Rosetrees also operates several co-donor partnerships that encourage others into philanthropy. “Co-donors come to us with a scientific area that interests them, and we identify outstanding researchers whose work they can support. For every £1 we gave away in 1987, we give about £300 now,” he adds.

“People listen to accountants for their advice on how to make their money work for them – we have so much influence in showing clients how it can be used for good. We are better placed than anyone else – which gives us the responsibility to help close that rich-poor divide.”

And Ross, now 75, intends to do this for as long as possible. “It’s wonderful to meet, be inspired by and help such clever people,” he says. “I’m not stopping yet. We’ve generated about £350m in grants. I’m not retiring until we reach £1bn.”