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Man Group Takes Eyes off Booker Prize

The asset manager is parting ways with the foundation that awards the prestigious literary prize, ending a relationship that began in 2002.

British asset manager Man Group is parting ways with the Man Booker Prize, a literary prize that honors the best English-language novel each year.  

The two announced Sunday that Man Group has decided to set its charitable sights on other forms of giving after having sponsored the prize since 2002.  

The news comes after one of the former prize judges, Sebastian Faulks, criticized the asset’s involvement over the summer, saying on a podcast that the Booker Prize Foundation should be critiquing groups like Man, rather than accepting money from them. 

“There has been news of tensions between the Man Group and the foundation,” said Christina Walter, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, who teaches a Man Booker prize class. “There was some sense that this wasn’t going to be perpetually an ideal fit.” 

For its part, Man Group said the decision to stop sponsoring the prize was not sudden.  

“Following a careful review of our funding initiatives, we have taken the decision to focus our resources on our ‘Paving the Way’ diversity and inclusion campaign, as well as activities led by the Man Charitable Trust, which supports educational causes that promote literacy and numeracy,” said Man Group chief executive Luke Ellis in a statement. “This was a natural point to re-evaluate our focus areas as our sponsorship agreement comes to an end.”

The foundation’s trustees are in talks with a new sponsor and plan to have funding secured for 2020, the announcement said. A spokesperson for the foundation did not return an email seeking further comment.  

“We would like to put on record the foundation’s appreciation of Man Group’s sponsorship,” said Helena Kennedy, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, in a statement. “However, all good things must come to an end and we look forward to taking the prizes into the next phase with our new supporter.” 

According to Walter, the Man Group was likely looking for positive press coverage from sponsoring a prize like this. “Was the Man Group getting what it wanted out of it in terms of the recognition?” she asked.  

This question is especially important in the context of Faulks’ comments on the prize.  

“The Man Group are not the sort of people who should be sponsoring literary prizes, they’re the kind of people literary prizes ought to be criticizing,” Faulks said in July on the How to Fail podcast. “I wouldn’t feel happy about accepting money from them.” 

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Ellis defended the group’s sponsorship of the prize in a 2018 speech, saying, “The arts need sponsors — generous sponsors — and not ones that impose their views or interests, but ones that support art in its purest form. We are proud to do so, and particularly proud to support a prize that does so much to promote the novel.”

On Monday, Faulks appeared to walk back his earlier remarks a bit on Twitter.  

“I think the Man Group are among the good guys in that world,” he wrote in response to a tweet. “They have a good record and tons of progressive initiatives.” 

According to Walter, criticism around the prize isn’t new: John Berger, who won in 1972 for his novel, G., gave half of the prize money to the British Black Panther Party, she noted, in protest of the Booker Prize’s roots in colonial money.  

Man Group's Paving the Way campaign has the stated goal of improving diversity and inclusion at the Man Group and across the financial services and technology industries, according to the Man Group’s announcement.  

“They don't want to be perceived as somehow not giving back,” Walter said on the Man Group’s Paving the Way campaign. 

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