S hadowing the person you are about to take over from is rarely possible and Mark Lund, who this week has taken the chief executive position at St James's Place from Mike Wilson, has made the most of such a rare chance since moving to the asset manager in January as chief executive designate.
Between Wilson and industry veteran Sir Mark Weinberg, who at 72 has stepped down as chairman to take up the role of president, Lund says he has found himself in the enviable position of being able to pick the sharpest, most experienced minds in the business.
He says: “It has been a brilliant year being able to simply walk down the hall and gain insight from two people with very considered, highly thought of views.”
Lund says that in preparing for the job, one of the greatest freedoms he has had has been simply to wander around the business and form views and opinions about what should be done. He says: “The insight you can pick up by simply observing processes and strategies while not being part of them is very valuable. This time has been priceless.”
Yet Lund is keeping quiet about any change he will implement following the change of guard. “Wilson and Weinberg have done an incredible job in returning the company to 15-20 per cent growth rates. This strategy has served us well.”
Lund says it is important for people to remember that St James's Place is still quite a young business. He says: “It is often regarded as having been around for donkey's years but it is only 12 years old. Our industry is not yet a mature marketplace and there is a yawning gap in what the industry needs to do to prepare for the future.”
Such words hint at considerable change at St James's Place but Lund is keeping his cards close to his chest.
He does admit that depolarisation will work well for the firm, with its tied salesforces able to benefit from what he sees will be an increased demand for advice. “We have been test driving business models – such as our panels – for a long time and depolarisation looks like more of what we have already been doing.”
Lund says this means that the market will see an expansion of St James's Place products and services in areas such as mortgages, where it has already grown its panel from a small base to whole-of-market, and protection, which already includes Friends Provident, Scottish Provident, Norwich Union and Bupa.
However, he does not believe, as many do, that banks will do well out of depolarisation. He says: “My strong belief is that advice is the key to servicing clients. Can the banks do this economically? They have never been able to in the past so it is doubtful. If banks are to succeed in a depolarised world, they need trust. They have been short on trust in the past.”
Lund believes depolarisation will let St James's Place be independent in the areas it wants to be and tied when there is a good business proposition that does not interfere with its ability to give advice. “With our partners being self-employed, our job is to make sure we have a range of products that is very relevant for our customers. We have to keep fresh stock on the shelves or our customers will not buy and our advisers will not stay with us.”
Historically, the firm's advisers have come from the tied world but Lund says in the last 18-24 months, there has been a significant increase in recruitment from the IFA sector. “This lends weight to the argument behind our strategy – you can still be advice-based in the environment we work in,” he says.
Financial advice and sitting on the board at St James's Place is a long way from the Liverpudlian's first job selling gardening supplies. He went back to university and became an economist, spending two years in that role with British Rail before becoming a management consultant at Spicer & Pegler and Booz Allen.
He worked with British Rail and a number of other organisations during the deregulation of the rail industry and says many of the questions being asked then are the same as those being asked now – what do we do to get ready? He says: “It is a simple question that requires a lot of consideration to answer.”
Lund says both the life of a transport economist and a management consultant are very nomadic, moving from project to project and often town to town.
Nowadays, Lund bases himself and his family in Shepperton, Middlesex and tries to spend as much time as he can with them. A solid climber and canoeist when he was younger, he still keeps fit by going to the gym and skiing in the winter. he says: “I used to spend a lot of time climbing the gritstone in Orkney but unless you do it a lot, it is easy to fall out of practice. These days, there is still the skiing and the gym.”
Lund is also about to run his first triathlon at the end of the month. The event is for charity and will raise money for causes including physically and mentally handicapped children.
The charity programme at St James's Place is something Lund has been keen to get personally involved in. Concentrating on lesser known charities, principally for children and hospices, Lund is a firm believer in giving back to the community. “St James's Place has always donated significantly to charity – not just as an organisation but as individuals as well – and this is something I am keen to be personally part of.”
For his biggest charity challenge, Lund is soon to execute a commando-style “death slide” off the top of Guy's Tower in London. He says: It is like bungee jumping and there is no preparation that can be done for it other than mental. I have taken a lot of leaps in my life but this will top them all.”
Born: 1957, Liverpool
Lives: Shepperton, Middlesex with wife Karen and three children Educated: Liverpool Institute; Liverpool Polytechnic; Masters degree in transport economics, Leeds University 1982 Career: 1982 economist, British Rail; 1984 management consultant, Spicer & Pegler and Booz Allen; 1991 joined Henderson Investors. Held variety of roles and became plc director responsible for retail distribution globally; post-AMP acquisition of Henderson seconded to Virgin Direct as chief executive; 2000 chief executive JP Morgan Funds-Hub; 2004 chief executive designate St. James's Place Career ambition: To make SJP the UK's dominant face to face adviser Life ambition: See the children well established. Live a long, adventurous and well funded retirement with Karen.
Heroes: Mostly adventurers: Peter Boardman, Joe Tasker, Joe Simpson, Ranulph Fiennes, Ellen McArthur and Pete Goss What would you be if you weren't in financial services? An adventurer Likes: Determined and energetic people, personality, travel and family holidays, especially skiing, keeping fit Dislikes: Those whose glass is half empty
Drives: Porsche and Mini Cooper S