Jonathan Klein
Jonathan Klein
Old Bedalian 1979

The 1970s in South Africa were a grim time – this was the decade of the Soweto riots, the murder of Steve Biko by the Government and further repression across the country. Neither domestic unrest nor international opprobrium and ostracism seemed able to shake the country from its disastrous policy of apartheid. The flames of freedom and resistance, however still flickered in many places; among them were the King David Schools, a network of Jewish day schools in and around Johannesburg dedicated, according to their avowed aim, to producing ‘graduates who are…confident and equipped to pursue any opportunity they wish to, who are proud of their Jewish heritage and its traditions, who have a love for learning, and a determination to contribute to their society.” Here was an oasis of relative sanity in the middle of a cultural and moral desert and it was where Jonathan Klein received most of his education, both in the classroom and in growing up at this turbulent time.

“Mum was one of the first teachers at King David in the late 1940s and I was there from my earliest years until I graduated,” Jonathan explains. “We were a liberal family, extremely conscious of the political situation in South Africa and reasonably but cautiously active in the anti-apartheid movement as a result. There were some at the school who appeared oblivious to the events around us but most weren’t; for our English, History and Latin teachers, the school was a place of relative safety where they could explain to some of us exactly what was happening. Mind you, if you had eyes, you could see what was happening. King David was on top of a hill with views across Johannesburg and I well remember watching Soweto burn from there in June 1976.”

Jonathan graduated from King David at the age of 17 and immediately faced a crossroads. “I wasn’t sure that I wanted to carry on with school elsewhere; in South Africa, we graduated earlier than in other countries and a number of my contemporaries were either going on to university or being conscripted into the army,” he reflects. “I actually had an offer to go to New York University but my parents quite rightly felt that I was nowhere near mature enough to handle the centre of Manhattan and the responsibility of managing there after a somewhat sheltered home in Johannesburg.”

The solution to the conundrum of Jonathan’s further education arrived via the agency of a family friend who was living on the south coast of England. “It was she who suggested Bedales to my mother as a place that might suit me and my mother went over on her own to check it out,” Jonathan says. “It must have really impressed her because the arrangements were quickly made for me to go to the UK and start at Bedales in 6.1 at the beginning of the January term.”

It was quite the cultural shock, both for Jonathan and his new friends. “I guess I stood out for a number of reasons,” he observes. “To start with, I was the only January arrival and then there was the fact that I had a bit of a tan in the midst of an English winter and an extremely strong South African accent. I played multiple sports but had only been regarded as about average at it in South Africa – at Bedales that translated to being one of the more accomplished players! From my point of view, the weather was the initial shock, coming from the warmth of Johannesburg to a bitter Hampshire winter and even playing football in those conditions. That and some of the food; I remember asking what this object was that I was about to eat – was it meat or fish? – and being told that it was something called spam. Spam! I’d never seen anything like it!”

Despite these learning experiences, Jonathan settled in to life in Steep extremely quickly. “I was made incredibly welcome at a place which always appeared to me to be highly inclusive and mostly free of cliques,” he says. “My dorm mates, who became good friends, were a Palestinian and a Nigerian, which I always thought showed a good sense of humour on the part of whoever arranged the dorm assignments! It seemed to reinforce the liberal credentials with which I arrived and I definitely kept my liberal politics going at Bedales; one of my first acts there was to organise a boycott of South African oranges. I’d seen how effective the cultural and sporting boycott had been at home and I wanted to do my bit from a distance.”

I was made incredibly welcome at a place which always appeared to me to be highly inclusive


On the academic front, Jonathan studied for A-Levels in History, English and Economics and was soon identified as potential Oxbridge material. “I was pretty terrible at Economics to start with, although I improved but in History and English, I had the great fortune to be taught by Ruth Whiting and John Batstone. If they felt you had ability, you were well in with them and I always got as much help as I needed from my teachers. There was never any of that sink or swim ethos.”

The arts remain an abiding love of Jonathan’s life; at Bedales, he took as much advantage as he could of the school’s excellence in that department. “To be honest, the talent there was so amazing that I felt like a Philistine at times,” he says. “I’d done a fair bit of acting in South Africa, though – I played the lead in a production of The Crucible, for example – and I felt that I should pretend that I wasn’t shy and dive in as much as possible. Acting was something that I always regarded as a team sport and I played it a lot at Bedales, appearing in productions like The Flies by Sartre and Much Ado About Nothing. My passion for the theatre was probably helped by having Richard Olivier as one of my best friends. Richard rather took me under his wing and I spent time at his place during holidays and other school breaks.”

Jonathan gained his appointed place at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, where he read law. “Unlike my time at Bedales, I didn’t really make the most of everything that Cambridge had to offer,” he admits. “I suppose that being at boarding school had made me grow up quite fast, possibly a little faster than some of my new friends, and the teaching, outside of supervisions, seemed a little impersonal by contrast with my school days but I enjoyed the social and sporting side of life at university, perhaps too much. The reality was that I was pretty lazy academically with way too much socialising and playing many sports.”

From the age of five, Jonathan had been told that his love of a good argument made him natural barrister material. Although he duly applied for and was awarded a pupillage at Fountain Court, he was already chafing against these expectations about his future career. “The truth was and is that I’m an entrepreneurial person – I have a tolerance for risk, once I can see how to mitigate it – and I also have a certain amount of emotional intelligence which has always worked well in all areas, including in the business environment,” Jonathan muses. “I found Bar school to be incredibly stuffy and uncommercial and I soon realised that it wasn’t for me.”

Jonathan gave practical vent to his opinion by walking out of one of his first Bar exams in a show of the resistance to authority that had always been a part of his make-up. “Growing up in apartheid South Africa gave you an assumption that everyone in a position of authority was somehow unacceptable,” he explains. “Bedales was never a school at which authority was feared or obeyed without question either. To this day, I still have a problem with seeing authority without wanting to resist it!”

The immediate problem for Jonathan was that his pupillage at Fountain Court had given him the necessary working visa to remain in the UK. It would now be necessary to find suitable employment to replace it with some speed. “I was working in a warehouse in Twickenham when I had lunch one day with a friend who was earning his living with Sumitomo, the Japanese bank,” Jonathan recalls. “He told me that my best solution would be to become a merchant banker. ‘What does a merchant banker do?’ I asked him. ‘Doesn’t work too hard and gets well paid for it,’ was the reply!”

Jonathan did his due diligence on potential destinations in this unfamiliar world and alighted on Hambros Bank, a long-time stalwart of the UK merchant banking scene. “Long story short, I managed to talk my way in at a time when the City of London was a much sleepier place than it would become a few years later when the Americans arrived in force,” he says. “There’s a line in the musical “Hamilton” – “immigrants, we get the job done” - and that’s how it turned out for me at Hambros. I was a bit different and I think that’s why I was given the licence to try new things. I visited a friend in Boston who was also in the banking world and I could see that in London, we were just gifted amateurs by comparison. In America, for example, banks had specialists devoted to different industry sectors; there was none of that in London.”

Fired with enthusiasm, Jonathan successfully persuaded his bosses at Hambros of the need for a similarly sector-focused approach to be adopted in London. He was soon establishing and leading a team specialising in media, in which he was able to give further free rein to his love for all things connected with the arts. “To some extent I was chucked into the deep end but I am very grateful that Hambros gave me the opportunity to pick the idea up and run with it,” Jonathan remarks.

In 1990, with Nelson Mandela’s sensational release from prison in South Africa, it was becoming evident that change was finally on its way in Jonathan’s home land. “I had this idea that Hambros should invest in what would be the first post-apartheid start-up company in South Africa,” Jonathan says. “On paper, it was a ridiculous idea – economic sanctions were still in place, after all – but the potential of the new South Africa was obvious and I wanted us to make the most of it. With the help of a colleague at Hambros, we linked up with two entrepreneurs in South Africa and eventually founded Conservation Corporation, which was establishing an eco-tourism model that today still leads the industry.” 

Jonathan needed a team to work on the project and one of his recruits came from the paper & packing sector team at Hambros and would play a central role in Jonathan’s life from that time forward. “I got Mark Getty on board because I knew that he would be able to help us and over the course of numerous trips to South Africa together, we became good friends,” says Jonathan. “Subsequently, I got to know his family as well and eventually we devised this idea that we thought might have real commercial possibilities. We wanted to focus on one industry, in which our intention was either to be the number one or number two player; we weren’t interested in expanding beyond that industry because we didn’t think that we would need to – we would fire just one bullet, unlike the usual and standard diversification approach.”

Bedales gave me so much ... most of all, the school gave me the confidence to feel that I could try anything and have a shot at succeeding


In 1995, therefore, Jonathan and Mark left Hambros with the full support and encouragement of the bank’s hierarchy and founded Getty Investments, which today remains the major shareholder in their company: “We called it Getty Communications and about three years later, after acquiring a company in Seattle called PhotoDisc, the name was changed and became known worldwide by the name under which it operates today – Getty Images. Getty Images is unquestionable the global market leader in all types of imagery – still and moving; commercial and editorial and also has the largest archive of photography anywhere in the world,” Jonathan explains.

Jonathan, who acted as the company’s CEO for twenty years and remains in place as its Deputy Chairman, looks back on the Getty Images journey with a mixture of satisfaction, amusement and the tiniest dash of disbelief. “When we got the funding for the business, and 80% of that came from the Getty family, I don’t think any of us could have imagined how far and how fast we would come,” he says. “The way in which things took off exceeded our wildest dreams.”

Despite the success of Getty Images, Jonathan’s interests are by no means restricted to his business. “I never thought that running it would be enough for me and you can basically divide the main strands of the rest of what I do into philanthropy in the global health and education areas, and on the for profit side in advising younger entrepreneurs and CEOs,” he says. Most significantly in the health arena, Jonathan has spent the past six years as Chairman of the Board of Friends of the Global Fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “I couldn’t believe how terrible the impact of AIDS could possibly be on South Africa and that’s a project that has a really personal meaning to me,” he says. “On the education side, my children were educated at Groton School in Massachusetts and it’s an institution that I particularly believe in, which is why I’ve been on the board for almost thirteen years and President of the Board there for four years.”  While Friends operates at a policy level, Jonathan is also actively involved in many on the ground organizations in the global health and education field – unsurprisingly, mainly in Africa.

One other element of Jonathan’s extraordinarily packed schedule should also be highlighted, particular in an age where the safety of journalists is under threat as it has never been before – his role as a Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “About a third of Getty Images revenues are derived from journalism,” he says. “Journalists are now in constant danger and of those, photo-journalists are the most vulnerable class of all. You can’t take the seminal images from a distance and photo-journalists are exposing themselves to danger the whole time. There was a time when it was a struggle to raise money for the CPJ; in the world we inhabit now, sadly, it’s an issue that’s top of mind for a lot of people and we are at least getting the funds that the situation demands.”

From Johannesburg, via Steep, London to Seattle and now New York City, which has been his home for more than a decade, Jonathan’s journey has been a remarkably colourful one. However, the five terms that he spent in rural Hampshire are still high on his list of formative influences. “Bedales gave me so much,” Jonathan says. “Most of all, the school gave me the confidence to feel that I could try anything and have a shot at succeeding. I was from a different background but I could make friends, have a shot at Oxbridge and elevate myself to be the best person that I could. I went back to Bedales with my wife in October this year for the first time in thirty-something years, had a look round and went and had a drink at The Harrow. The memories that came flooding back were nothing but good and positive ones.”