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MARGARET STEWARD

Aegon UK&#39s latest acquisition of third-party pension administrator HS Administrative Services could lead to further synergies between the two companies and not just on the pensions side.

HS managing director Margaret Steward believes the tie- up will throw open the door to “lots of opportunities” on the asset management side at Aegon.

She says: “We are considering different markets, including multi-manager, to interact with the pensions side of the business. But things are just at the thinking-about stage, nothing has been agreed.”

Steward firmly believes the Dutch giant&#39s move shows a strength of vision lacking in the rest of the industry. “I don&#39t think the other life offices have the Aegon vision, particularly when you consider how they reacted to the tie-up,” she says.

The general industry reaction to news of the tie-up was one of surprise, accor-ding to Steward.

She says: “We&#39ve been discussing a great many opportunities for the last 18 months. Prior to that, we had numerous offers from Aegon&#39s competitors but it isn&#39t about the money when you&#39ve built something up from scratch.”

HS Administrative Services (the H is for Harsant, Steward&#39s partner, who originally set up the operation alongside her, and the S is for Steward) began life in 1984 when Steward and John Harsant set it up with a staff of just three.

It has come a long way since then and the firm now employs 100 people. Harsant has since moved on.

This latest development in the third-party adminis-trator&#39s history is a significant step for the firm and its staff, according to Steward. It is not a leap of faith either. Steward has been conducting her own investigation into exactly what Aegon could offer her company.

Steward says having a free hand to run HS is important because she wanted to ensure the HS staff had the chance to develop and grow.

What impressed Steward about Aegon was its assurances that HS would still operate autonomously from its Chester base. But she wan-ted proof of Aegon&#39s commitment to HS&#39s independence before jumping into bed with the Dutch insurer, so she set about getting it.

Steward was adamant that HS should not be rebadged under Aegon&#39s name and that her staff would continue to be looked after. So she person-ally went to see Aegon&#39s other autonomous units, Scottish Equitable, ScotEq International and Guardian, to put her mind at rest.

She flew to Luxemburg to visit SEI and even dropped in on an Aegon outfit in Hungary.

She says: “We are very much a people company and I wanted to make sure that we would be allowed to develop autonomously. I am very proud of what we have achieved and I wanted proof that Aegon was as good as their word, so I went out and got it.”

Aegon bought the Ches-ter-based administra-tor of final-salary and money-purchase pension schemes at the start of September. The life office brushes aside any suggestions that stakeholder looming on the horizon influenced its decision.

Steward says: “We have no definite plans at the moment on how stakeholder will impact on the working relationship with Aegon.”

Between 1965 and 1974, Steward worked for a variety of life offices and brokers but her first job was with Scottish Widows. She says it was not until she joined US firm Alcoa, however, that the basis of her management style was formed. “My times at Alcoa were my formative years. They shaped my way of thinking and I learned how to deal with staff,” she says.

Steward, a fellow of the Pensions Management Institute and a registered investment IFA, has made a huge success of her particular brand of management. She says in business you have to be fair and honest but admits it is a tough world out there, especially if you are a woman.

Her sense of what is fair led her to put herself through a psychometric test. “All my staff have to complete one so I thought it was about time I did one too,” she says.

The results showed her to be hardworking, willing to listen to reason, fair and honest.

Is this a fair reflection? Steward says: “I answered under a pseudonym very honestly and I think it matched my character, at least what I try to strive towards anyway.

“If I had to pick a defining characteristic, I would say I was a very detailed person. I don&#39t like leaving anything to chance, either in business or in my personal life.”

A former competition ice skater – her major claim to fame being that she once skated with John Curry “a very long time ago” – Steward comes across as someone who is self-assured without being arrogant and polite without being stuffy.

The proud new owner of her first set of golf clubs, Steward intends to add golf to her list of sporting ach-ievements.

To this end, she says she is taking lessons. “You&#39ve got to play people at their own game. And in this industry, that game is golf.”

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