Please note that tax, investment, pension and ISA rules can change and the information and any views contained in this article may now be inaccurate.
Is your favourite investment trust in safe hands?
Experience counts in the asset management industry and in a phenomenal achievement, Peter Spiller (pictured) recently celebrated his 40th anniversary at the helm of wealth preservation specialist Capital Gearing Trust (CGT).
The mind boggles when you consider that during his four decades as manager, Spiller has seen seven UK prime ministers elected, countless international conflicts rage and inflation spike above 9% in 1990.
To coincide with Spiller’s milestone, the Association of Investment Companies has released a list of the 27 investment company managers with a track record of at least 20 years.
Out of all AIC member investment companies (excluding venture capital trusts) with a history of longer than 10 years, 143 (45%) have had at least one of their current fund managers in place for 10 years or more, while 27 investment company managers have guided their companies through two turbulent decades.
IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESSION PLANNING
Unlike athletes, who are forced to call time on careers as their powers wane over time, fund managers can become better investors and asset allocators as the years roll by and they hone their skills. In particular they will have experience of more than one economic and market cycle and therefore learn not to get too carried away in a bullish environment nor panic when there is a sell-off.
It is important for investment trusts with long serving managers to have a succession plan in place, since retirement comes to us all. Even if a manager with lengthy tenure remains relatively young, he or she may choose to leave for pastures new and there is also key person risk for boards and investors to consider.
Should something tragic befall a trusted manager, is there a well-equipped deputy versed in the investment process who can step into the role immediately or a team of analysts that can continue to successfully manage the trust and generate good returns?
Communications director at the AIC, Annabel Brodie-Smith, observes: ‘A high-profile example is Scottish Mortgage (SMT) where the much-respected James Anderson, who has managed the company since 2000, is stepping down this month.
‘Since 2009 Anderson has been working closely at Scottish Mortgage with another manager, Tom Slater. Tom will be taking over shortly and interestingly a new manager, Lawrence Burns, was appointed to the company last year.’
LONGEST SERVING MANAGERS
As the table shows, behind Peter Spiller is the second longest-serving manager Simon Knott, who has steered UK smaller companies trust Rights & Issues (RIII) for a staggering 38 years. Hot on his heels is James Henderson, who has managed Lowland Investment Company (LWI) for 32 years, Law Debenture (LDWB) for 18 years and Henderson Opportunities (HOT) for 15 years.
Completing the top five are Job Curtis who has headed City of London (CTY) for 30 years and Katie Potts, the longest-serving female investment company manager, who has been calling the shots at Herald (HRI) for 28 years.
Austin Forey has managed JPMorgan Emerging Markets (JMG) for pushing on 28 years, Hugh Young has steered Abrdn Asia Focus (AAS) for well over 26 years and Julian Cane has managed BMO Capital & Income (BCI) for over a quarter
of a century.
And then there is famed ‘buy and hold’ investor Nick Train, whose successful stock picking approach is based on that of Warren Buffett. Train has presided over both the Finsbury & Growth & Income (FGT) and Lindsell Train (LTI) investment trusts for more than 21 years.
WAITNG IN THE WINGS
CG Asset Management’s founder Peter Spiller manages Capital Gearing, which has the objective to preserve and over time to grow shareholders’ real wealth, alongside Alastair Laing, who was made CEO of CG Asset Management five years ago. Having been co-portfolio manager of Capital Gearing for 11 years, Laing knows the process inside out.
He points out that Chris Clothier joined as the third portfolio manager six years ago and stresses that ‘together Chris and I represent one generation of succession planning’, a process he says includes many aspects of the business including recruitment, training, culture and firm ownership.
‘We are very conscious of managing all these points over time, although I would stress that Peter has no plans to retire – I would expect him to still be actively involved for the 50th anniversary,’ says Laing.
Capital Gearing recently recruited an analyst and will shortly have another join the team, and Laing and the trust hope these will represent the second generation of succession planning.
Laing also makes the point that CG Asset Management is majority owned by an Employee Ownership Trust, and because every member of the team is an owner manager under the EOT, this gives significant team stability – no fund manager has ever left CGAM since it was founded in 2001. Laing says there is no risk of the business being sold to a third party as the EOT owns the company.
Finsbury Growth & Income’s manager Lindsell Train informed Shares it has ‘developed a clear path forward regarding succession planning’, but stressed that co-founders Michael Lindsell and Nick Train (pictured) ‘plan to continue to be actively involved in portfolio management and running our business until at least 2029’.
Over the past 12 years, Michael Lindsell and Nick Train have recruited five individuals to join them on the investment team, ‘all of whom have become increasingly important in their contribution to the management and performance of our investment strategies’.
This quintet include James Bullock, who has jointly managed global equity portfolios alongside Train and Lindsell since 2015 and manages the LF Lindsell Train North American Equity Fund, launched in May 2020.
Another rising star is deputy portfolio manager Madeline Wright (pictured) who works closely with Nick Train on LF Lindsell Train UK Equity Fund (B18B9X7) and assists Bullock with the North American fund. Fellow deputy portfolio manager Alexander Windsor-Clive and analyst and portfolio managers’ assistants Ben Van Leeuwen and Alice Li could also be future stars in the making.
During his lengthy spell managing BMO Capital & Income, Julian Cane has outperformed the FTSE UK All-Share Index benchmark over the long and medium term and grown the trust’s dividend every year since 1992, a 28-year run of unbroken payout growth that has earned the trust coveted AIC ‘Dividend Hero’ status.
Pressed on his succession plans for the trust, Cane commented: ‘First, I have no intention of retiring in the immediate future. I started managing the fund when I was 27 and so should have many productive years still ahead of me. If anything, fund managers should improve with experience.
‘Secondly, there are, of course, succession plans in the event that I leave or something untoward happens. In this scenario, the management company would make a recommendation of a
new manager to the board from the broader investment team that helps me.
‘That bench strength will only increase as the integration with Columbia Threadneedle progresses,’ referring to Columbia Threadneedle’s recent acquisition of BMO’s EMEA asset management business.
LESSONS FROM LONGEVITY
BMO Capital & Income’s investors are clearly lucky to have Cane still steering the trust. Cane’s advice to his younger self in the role, and presumably to a successor many years down the track, would be: ‘Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions – be worried if you get a dumb answer. There are plenty of storytellers amongst company managements and stockbrokers, telling you what they think you want to hear.
‘Trust, but verify. Once you’ve done the necessary research, back your judgement. Your successes will outweigh the mistakes.’
Elsewhere, Evy Hambro (pictured) has managed BlackRock World Mining (BRWM) for more than two decades. This is a commodities and natural resources trust that can call upon a deep bench of talent in the future.
Hambro has had co-manager Olivia Markham (pictured) on the trust with him since 2015 and the BlackRock natural resources team is also the largest in the world by assets and has real depth of expertise.
BlackRock says: ‘To help ensure continuity of leadership and management, succession planning is part of our investment teams’ ongoing talent development.’