The financial services industry may not be perceived by the outside world as being driven by strong personalities. The rows of dark suits visible at any industry conference are a testament to that.
Yet the shockwaves sent through the industry whenever a leading figure leaves an organisation shows that personality must be a driving factor in a business.
The Exchange is certainly crowing over having snapped up the influential former Misys IFA Services chairman Jim Gaskin. So important was his presence at Misys that his resignation in May was kept secret to avoid any damage to the company's share price.
When the resignation was rev ealed in Money Marketing in July, members of the Misys-owned Countrywide network expressed concern for the organisation's future.
The Exchange is planning to capitalise on Gaskin's regulatory knowledge and experience of the IFA sector. But the pulling power of his reputation means his appointment is seen as a major coup by many in the industry.
Countrywide member Exc alibur managing director And rew Baggott says: “Gaskin would come to lots of meetings and conferences, telling his members what he was doing and how he was working. He really communicated with us and we all believed he was actually doing something for the organisation.
“If you have someone who is dynamic and obviously cares about what they do, it filters through to the staff. You really need someone like that, especially in financial services which is a fragmented and often political industry.”
The sudden resignation this week of DBS network chief executive Tony Kemp ster has also shocked members.
The network will now be headed by Assureweb chief executive David Stewart, while compliance director Alan Taylor becomes managing director. The imp lications of their leadership on the network are yet to be seen but, given Stewart's background, a more technology-driven organisation is a possibility.
DBS member Alan Moran says: “Personalities make a tremendous difference. The whole ethos of DBS has chan ged in the time Kempster has been here. You got the feeling we were a great organisation, working in a team. That is a result of his approach.
“Our previous chief executives ran the organisation like accountants, putting costs first. Kempster worked first on what members needed and then worked back to the costs.”
Last week also brought the announcement that Zurich IFA chief executive Jerry Gray burn is taking early ret irement from the company. He is credited with establishing Zifa as a credible brand and his absence could pave the way for substantial chan ges in the organisation.
Meanwhile, at Aegon UK, chan ges to the executive board make it clear that group development director Otto Thoresen is a driving force behind the organisation. He is now finance director alongside his original role and has been a key figure in recent acquisitions, including Guar dian Financial Services and HS Admini str ative Services.
Aegon public relations manager Scott White says: “Most of the new members of our executive board are in their early 40s. It really shows the changing face of big insurance companies that these individuals have powered through to the top. You used to have to earn your stripes and have grey hair to progress.”
He says the insurance sector has suffered from a lack of individuals who have been prepared to take the industry forward. But he believes dyn amic personalities are now coming to the fore.
White says: “Insurance companies have not had individuals to take them out of their comfort zones. There are now people who are willing to embrace change and break down the traditional ways of doing things.
“The insurance industry has lagged behind the banking sector but we have caught up and it has taken individuals to push through change.”
Personalities do not come much bigger than former Jupi ter chief executive John Duf field, whose claim for unfair dis missal against Jupiter was settled out of court last week.
Duffield's personality dominated the running of the company and many credit its success to him. His departure in May has seen a marked change in the company's app roach. Duffield was notoriously media averse but the company is now keen to have a more transparent image.
Hargreaves Lansdown head of investment Mark Dampier says: “The John Duffield case shows personalities do have a bearing on organisations. Whether you liked his management style or not, Jupiter's success has been down to him. But success has a rolling effect – other successful people are attracted to it. The effect of dynamic people who are hug ely enthusiastic about their business spills over to staff.”
It is probably in fund management that personality has the most visible influence. The industry appears to be dominated by the cult of the star fund manager, with inv estors moving their money to follow a manager rather than take a risk with their replacement.
Aberdeen Asset Manage ment head of unit trusts Gary Marshall says: “You need personalities who have impact to create an image for your company. But to build up a business, you have to build up a strong team. The bigger your team, the more diversified you are and, ultimately, the stron ger you are.”