Renaissance Man: Christ Rodrigues from Jesus

Some candidates for the 1970 Cambridge Crew in practice in February 1970. Christopher Rodrigues is at ‘6’. On race day, 28 March, Rodrigues was at ‘4’ and Cambridge won by 3 1/2 lengths.

17 June 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch on a distinguished oarsman and congenital chairman.

Prolonged internet browsing for interesting rowing material during lockdown has taken me down some little travelled roads. Included in this journey are visits to online Oxbridge college newsletters as they occasionally produce an historical article on a college boat club. Looking at the Spring 2018 edition of Jesuan News, the magazine for past and present members of Jesus College, Cambridge, I came across a piece titled “An affinity for water”, an interview with old Jesuan, Christopher Rodrigues.

Most importantly for HTBS Types, Rodrigues was in the winning Cambridge crews in 1970 and 1971. He was CUBC President and stroke in 1971, and the Light Blue’s win by 10 lengths that year was then the second fastest time in the race’s 142-year history. All this would be enough of an achievement for many of us, but it seems that Rodrigues was just starting to do rather impressive things and in his subsequent career he went onto making his mark in business, athletics and the arts.

Chris Rodrigues in his role as Chairman of the Port of London Authority, 2018.

In making a no doubt incomplete list of Rodrigues’ achievements, I am not going to attempt to differentiate between those things that he is currently engaged with and those that he has moved on from; the point is that he seems rather good at a lot of very different things.

MA in Economics & Economic History from Cambridge and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey and at Cranfield School of Management.

Chairman of the financial services firm Openwork Group, Chairman of VisitBritain, Executive Committee member of the World Travel and Tourism Council, President and Chief Executive of Visa International, Group Chief Executive of Bradford and Bingley, CEO of Thomas Cook, senior roles in organisations, including American Express, McKinsey and the Financial Conduct Authority.

Past-Chairman of Leander Club, Steward of Henley Royal Regatta, Craft Owning Freeman of the Waterman’s Company.

Chairman of the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association.

Chairman of the Port of London Authority.

Chairman of the Royal Ballet School, pro-bono Chairman of The Almeida Theatre, Trustee of the National Trust, Chair of the British Council.

In 2007, Chris Rodrigues was awarded a CBE for services to British business interests and charitable works in the UK and USA.

I am not sure what he does with all his spare time.

The 1970 Boat Race approaching Hammersmith Bridge. Rodrigues is at ‘4’ in the Cambridge Boat (right).

The point of all this smoke blowing is that it is by way of an introduction to my reproduction of the very amusing final part of Rodrigues’ interview with Jesuan News. The “Hawks’ tie’’ that he mentions refers to Hawks Club, the social club for Cambridge sportsmen with Full Blues, Half Blues or Second Team Colours.

JN: What did you read at Jesus College?

CR: Economics, Economic History and Rowing, not necessarily in that order. I also learned a lot about life from Percy Bullock – a great philosopher and much-loved college boatman (between 1924 and 1971). We won the (Cambridge University) light fours in 1970 on my 21st birthday and I was referred to in the Guardian the next day as ‘Christ Rodrigues from Jesus’. I was lucky enough to win the Boat Race twice and in my last year was President of the University Boat Club.

JN: Rowing has, then been at the centre of everything…

CR: Soon after Cambridge I went to Harvard Business School and got a Harkness Fellowship to pay the way. The Interview – at the English Speaking Union – was conducted by a formidable 10-person panel. We sat at a table in a long, dark room. I was seated opposite Alastair Burnet, then editor of The Economist, and Shirley Williams – Baroness Williams as she now is: not exactly lightweights and also from the Other University. We got to question three on economics and Shirley said, ‘Mr Rodrigues, it seems to me that had you spent rather more time studying and rather less time rowing you might be better suited to this scholarship’. I thought, it’s all over. Then from a really dark end of the room a torso leant forward: I heard a disembodied voice and saw a Hawks’ tie. The voice boomed: ‘Shirley, given the results of the Boat Races in which Mr Rodrigues has rowed, it’s understandable why Oxford people aren’t impressed. But from our perspective it was a very fine academic performance’.

One comment

  1. Sir,

    A mispront in the Grauniad – shurely shome mishtake? Was the rowing correspondent a Mr Hammer Smith? I think we should be told.

    I remain,

    Cerise Needle-Blade

    ‘Fixed Pins’, Doggers Field, Oxon.

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