Mark Skinner likes to learn by tackling high-pressure situations so being managing director at New Star must be teaching him a great deal.He has just had a haircut with the clippers set at number four, the shortest he has ever had his hair, and he is wearing a sharp suit with a shark-patterned tie. He explains that since 75 per cent of his job is client- facing, the smarter he is dres-sed, the better he is able to work, although his boss John Duffield is noted for often wearing a casual sweater. Skinner talks about his formative years and how at the age of 15 he was diagnosed a diabetic but thought he had a more serious illness and says he was relieved. He thinks this gave him optimism and he developed a taste for adventure, hitchhiking to Iran with a schoolfriends after taking A levels. Returning to England via Beirut six months later in 1976, Skinner needed a job and started working at a fish farm in Gloucestershire at 35p an hour. He moved on to selling advertising on Farmer’s Weekly and then set up a magazine called Fish Farmer before going on to selling advertising on the Financial Times in the early 1980s. Skinner worked internationally, selling in countries such as Argentina, Uganda and Mozambique. He says he met Ugandan president Milton Obote in the company of 20 of his guards, all carrying sub-machineguns. He was in Uganda during two attempted coups and in Kenya during another coup in 1982.He looked out of his hotel window at four in the morning thinking there was a firework display but then realis-ing that people in the street were being shot. In 1984, Skinner got a job with Save & Prosper as a unit trust salesman. He but left after 15 months to work at Barings on the start-up of its unit trust company and within a year, he was sales director. He says being personable, trustworthy, conscientious, honest and professional are the keys to his success. “I left Save & Prosper to work in a start-up at Barings because I thought I would learn much quicker. At Save & Prosper, we had a huge back office and they could give me any answer I needed but I knew that at Barings that I could make a few mistakes and that would be good for me.” In 1995, Barings collap- sed and Skinner had what he describes as two amazing weeks working to save the Dublin fund management company and the London investment part of the bank. “Everybody pulled their weight and sacrificed everything they could. I worked with Mark Hilliam, who is now sales director at New Star, Charlie Porter from Thames River Capital and Dick Turpin from Artemis. I realised the value of being in a good team through a crisis. I only like to work with people I respect and who I like working with.” Skinner was offered a job at Jupiter by then boss John Duffield but turned it down and went to Norwich Union to build up the firm’s investment sales for two years before making a call to Duffield in 2000 after reading that was setting up New Star. Three hours later, Duffield signed him up. S kinner says Duffield is sometimes thinking a year ahead of his team. It is clear that Skinner feels energised by working with him and says he hopes to be working for the company for at least another 20 years. He says Duffield is constantly ask- ing questions about clients, sales and performance numbers. Work can be difficult but never boring. He predicts a difficult summer in investment with the macro-economic situation looking tough for investors but adds that he is keen for New Star to increase its market share through the summer and wants everybody to notice if even £50,000 walks from the firm’s £6bn under management. He intends to continue marketing aggressively thr- ough the summer. “If and when New Star floats, this is a long-term business. Everybody in this firm will be locked in over a long period of time. A float would remove any speculation that all our staff are going to sell their equity and be off. John has learnt from his experience at Jupiter. This is a stable business, with stability of staff and fund management.” Skinner will not discuss acquisition plans but he would like to improve the service New Star gives to IFAs and improve communications with advisers. “My motto is that the bigger we get, we must remind ourselves not to become like many of our competitors.”
Born: Guildford, 1956. Still lives there
Education: Claysmore Boarding School, Dorset. He was packed off on a steam train from Waterloo aged six
Likes: Japanese food because it does you good and is not too filling
Dislikes: Professional fouls in football. You have got to know when you are beaten
Life ambition: He says that nobody’s life ambition is to be a unit trust salesman. He wanted to be a farmer because he likes seeing things grow.
Car: A motor-sport racing mini
Heroes: Steve Redgrave and Paula Radcliffe for their grit, determination and staying power. People on the street who go about their lives quietly helping others