Partner Spotlight: Releasing Potential

Ian McDowell
14 June 2021
Hilesh, you’re a lawyer specialising in private client wealth management, which can include philanthropy.
You’ve been donating time and talent yourself, and for one of the best-known charities in the UK, The Prince’s Trust. Can you tell us more about this?

Everyone has heard of The Prince’s Trust. I remember it from my childhood. It is such a thought leader in the Third Sector, so highly respected. I only knew it by reputation until a friend of mine joined the team and suggested I got involved. What struck me, and surprised me, was just how many different things the Trust does: mentoring of young people is perhaps one of the most famous things it does, but also a whole spectrum of other things, like urban regeneration.

The Prince of Wales has such a wide range of interests, and establishing a charity like the Trust has been a great way for him to show that he is forward-thinking and cares about the future. There’s so much knowledge and ambition at the Trust. It’s fantastic to see the drive the team has. They’re determined not to stand still or just accept the status quo. They want to be in the vanguard, and they succeed. The Trust is a shining light, and it’s a privilege to be just a tiny part of that ambition.

Is it just legal work you do for the Trust, or do you get drawn into other things?

When we first discussed what I might do for the team at the Trust, they said their 40th anniversary was coming up and they were doing some real soul searching and horizon scanning. As well as specific advice around charitable giving, we agreed that they would benefit from a broad set of pointers about how they can work seamlessly with their donors. The help I give also covers current trends that have an impact on philanthropy, things like the global pandemic, changing international relationships, and increased awareness of donor advised funds. It’s almost like coaching on a corporate level.

I can see that these are skills other charities may want to reach out to you for!

Yes, absolutely. I love helping to raise awareness in whatever space they’re operating in. My insight from working with high-net-worth individuals and experience of advising them on charity and estate planning matters gives me a unique perspective. So I would urge them to get in touch. Perhaps I can help.

Is your own background something that inspires you?

I come from a background that was fortunate in many ways, but wasn’t inherently privileged. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important for me to work with young people who are at a point where they’re working out what they want to do with their lives, and what the future might hold for them.

My dad grew up in poverty, and left school when he was 12, and so it was always incredibly important to him to give me the opportunities he didn’t have, at least not from the start. It’s my own family story that makes me feel we should count our blessings, and value our good fortune. This is what gives me the drive I have: to improve the world; to build individual and community capacity; to support people to better themselves; to improve the communities they are from; and to do that starting with the younger generation.

You’re still a young person, and already you’ve achieved so much professionally. Was there one thing that happened to you in your upbringing or education that opened up possibilities up for you?

I was incredibly lucky to have parents who gave me self-esteem and the belief that the world is my oyster. I had obstacles, like undiagnosed dyslexia. You might think that would have prevented me from succeeding in studying Chemistry and Law at university, training to become and working as a solicitor but I was given a belief by my parents that I could achieve anything if I put my mind to it. They came to the UK with about twenty pounds in cash, back in the 1960s, and they had to build a home here from scratch. The life they have built for us, as a family, is truly inspirational.

But it wasn’t just my parents. When I did my A levels, I had an English teacher who had previously been a lawyer in the City of London. He was more than a teacher, he was also a role model for me, and he opened my eyes to the big world of possibilities out there. He used to talk about his work in the City, and about friends who were doctors, or working in finance. He didn’t push me into doing law, but he opened my eyes to a whole new world, opportunities and possibilities.

But without the safe, nurturing home life that gave me the self-esteem I needed, I would not have been able to respond to what he told me. Many of the people who are assisted by The Prince’s Trust haven’t had that. That’s when I want to be able to do something for them that fills that gap. I want to open their eyes to what’s out there. Many people don’t realise their talents. Everyone has things about them that are special, and if they can only see these things then they are on the first step to fulfilling their ambitions.

You loved English Literature at school. Was there a book or a poem that was especially influential?

Reading for pleasure wasn’t something I did, and I now realise that was because of the dyslexia. But this inspirational teacher recommended reading Kasuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. To this day, it’s the most haunting and powerful piece of storytelling I have come across.

That butler in the novel had no one to open his eyes to the potential of his life, and when someone comes along who tries to do this, he doesn’t have the inner resources to be able to respond.

When I read that book, I made the decision that I didn’t want to be like him, to end up regretting not having taken the opportunities life presented to me. I could have had a small, protected, insular life like that too, but then I would have missed out on all the joy, and the interest, and the people, and being able to give something back.

As well as working at the Trust, I lecture at the University of Law, and I see young people there with their whole lives ahead of them. I always try to open their eyes to their potential, and the possibilities they have in front of them.

The writer of The Remains of the Day, Kasuo Ishiguro [who came to the UK from Japan when he was five] is of mixed heritage, and this, it seems to me, gives him a fresh and interesting perspective on his characters. Does your mixed British and Indian heritage also give you a fresh perspective on your clients’ challenges?

I think it does give you that ability to see things from multiple perspectives. Being of mixed heritage for me means fitting into all worlds, but not being totally of any world. It means you can draw on the best parts of each, but also it gives you the ability to be critical and objective as well. Sometimes clients grapple with how to deal with their succession planning due to tensions between different cultures because children and other family members grew up and live all around the world. I appreciate the friction and duality that can exist. I help my clients see difficult issues from different angles.

My clients are always telling me I’ve been more than just a lawyer for them. That’s why they come to me. I’m not just about getting a specific thing done, and that’s it. I need to understand what makes them tick to be able to advise them correctly, and to put the right things in place for them. That’s how I’ve become a trusted adviser to so many individuals and families.

Finally, what would you say to someone who was thinking of doing charity work?

I would say to them don’t think you don’t have the time, we all have the time. Even if it’s only a small amount of time it can make a big difference. Don’t underplay your skills and talents. You could make a huge difference. And people are incredibly grateful, even for a small amount of time. What you think is small often doesn’t seem small to the person who is benefiting from it.

Ian McDowell
ESG Director
Ian McDowell is the Community Engagement Director at Spencer West.