The Garrulous Jay – Lenny, Kenny & Leo

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The last week has seen three high profile individuals from very different walks of life announce their ‘retirements’. All had the opportunity to carry on in their roles but took the difficult decision to quit. What lessons can we learn from Lenny Henry, Laura Kenny & Leo Varadkar?

For a start it’s worth considering the pioneering careers and enormous success each has enjoyed.

Sir Lenworth George Henry was born in Dudley in 1958 to Jamaican immigrant parents, the fifth of seven children.

In the early 1980s he became the country’s highest profile Black Comedian, and in 1984 he set up Comic Relief with writer, Richard Curtis. The annual Red Nose Day charity event has gone on to raise over £1.5 billion, while professionally Henry has diversified into more serious acting roles.

Dame Laura Rebecca Kenny was born a month prematurely in Harlow, with a collapsed lung. She was later diagnosed with asthma and encouraged to take up sport to assist with her breathing.

With five Olympic Gold medals and seven World Championships, Kenny is the most successful British female cyclist and Olympian of all time.

Leo Eric Varadkar was born in Dublin in 1979 to an Indian father and Irish mother. He qualified as a doctor but had an interest in politics from an early age.

He was leader of Fine Gael from 2017 until his resignation this week, and served two terms as Taioseach. A mixed race openly gay man, when first elected he was also Ireland’s youngest ever Taioseach: quite a hat-trick! In power he has pioneered reform around both abortion and same-sex marriage.

Henry’s decision to step away from Comic Relief appears to have been driven by a conviction that it was time for a new generation to take the helm. Although he’s only 65, as he put it himself, “I think it needs new blood, and I’m definitely old blood. So it is time for change.”

As mother to two young boys, Kenny appears to have been motivated by more personal reasons. Tellingly she has said, “Once I said to [husband] Jase, ‘I don’t think I want to ride a bike any more’, I started to feel relief.”

Finally, Varadkar summarised his motivations for stepping down as being “both personal and political”.

Success compounds the temptation to continue to pursue a particular path. It takes courage and perspective to recognise when it’s time to quit while you’re ahead, rather than experiencing gradual decline.

As individuals and investors we can learn from this. In the case of the latter the allure of holding on to a favourite stock that has already delivered great returns can lead to investors’ portfolios accumulating holdings that are past their ‘sell by’ date.

Past performance makes it tempting to find contorted reasons to justify remaining invested, when a wider perspective would lead to a different decision.

Lenny, Kenny & Leo are all young enough to pursue new opportunities. Investors should always be seeking the same rather than clinging to their past successes.

PS – For the record, I have no immediate plans to retire.