It first entered the fund management world in the 1980s when several stock-broking firms saw launching unit trusts as a good way to mitigate capital gains tax.
From these relatively small beginnings, the Leeds-based Rensburg Fund Management has become one of the best-regarded UK equity boutiques in the market, with a team together for over two decades.
By 1996, the group had three of the best-performing funds in the market, run by current managers Stuart Sharp, Colin Morton and Mark Hall, but negligible assets as there was nothing in the way of marketing or sales support.
Current joint CEO Alex Brotherston joined the firm at that stage to sell its products into the IFA space and assets reached almost £2bn before recent market turmoil.
These three managers initially remained private client stockbrokers running the vehicles on a part-time basis but moved over to the fund arm full-time as the operation gathered pace.
In subsequent years, the group’s range has grown to eight products although there are still just 15 staff on the fund management side of the business.
Brotherston believes this stockbroking background has shaped the group’s process, with the managers never losing sight of underlying investors and willing to explain how and why they do things.
Of the three managers, Morton focuses on the blue-chip end of the market – also running the income vehicle – while Sharp runs the small and micro cap portfolios. In between them sits Hall in charge of the go-anywhere UK select growth trust,
Finally, Paul Spencer heads the UK mid-cap growth offering after rejoining the Rensburg team in 2006.
His fund tops the UK all-companies peer group over three and five years despite a major downturn for this part of the market and a serious drop-off in numbers for several mid-cap counterparts.
Spencer originally worked at the firm from 1987 to 1995 as head of research but left to join Granville Davies and then TD Waterhouse.
To take advantage of this UK line-up, the group pooled its team on a single portfolio in 2006 with the launch of the UK managers focus fund.
This vehicle comprises 10 stocks from each of the four managers, with Morton, Spencer and Sharp picking from their areas of expertise and Hall selecting from across the market.
Outside of UK equities, the group has a single bond fund and suffered a rare manager departure this year, with John Anderson leaving to join Gartmore.
Rensburg is currently considering options for the portfolio and will either recruit a replacement manager or possibly sell on the mand-ate, with Gartmore identified as a potential bidder.
Brotherston says the group has considered over-seas equity launches over the years, including a pan- European offering, but felt that it would be difficult to get such specialist managers working out of Leeds.
Rensburg now also has a big London office after the parent completed a reverse takeover of Carr Sheppards Crosthwaite in 2005 but has opted to maintain the UK focus.
Brotherston says: “Clients like the fact that we are a UK specialist boutique and we have played to that strength.”
Meanwhile, the group has also kept away from fashionable products such as 130/30 or long-short absolute return despite taking a close look at the products in recent years.
Like many long-only houses, the managers have built their processes around buying stocks that they believe will go up and decided against complicating this.
According to Brotherston, their transparent and straightforward approach has continued to win the firm business, particularly given recent issues on the derivatives side.
Alongside the UK focus, the group has always stressed its Leeds base as advantageous, insulating the managers from often inaccurate city rumours. “If we had been in London, it would have been much harder to keep this team together but all our managers enjoy the lifestyle perks of living outside the capital,” says Brotherston.
With several big pension funds in the area, the group often shares company meetings with the major players and uses video conferencing when firms cannot make it to the North.