I nvesco UK head of distribution Mike Webb has, by his own admission, taken an extremely bizarre route to the top. At a time when most of his peers were hunched over economic textbooks, he was working in pubs and clubs the length of the country attempting to eke out a living as a stand-up comedian.
But despite minor successes, including a well-received stint at the Edinburgh Festival, it was no laughing matter. Realising that working simultaneously at a morgue, among other unappealing jobs, was not conducive to attaining the lifestyle to which he aspired, Webb joined the unit trust industry and has never looked back.
This week, in fact, he is very much looking to the future. Invesco Perpetual is launching a fund for the first time in two years – a distribution portfolio to be managed by three of its heaviest-hitting managers, Neil Woodford, Paul Read and Paul Causer. Although Invesco Perpetual is the first major group to launch a new product this year, he dismisses suggestions that its genesis is related to the upcoming Isa season.
“We are expecting an uplift this Isa season but the fund's launch is about offering a more complete solution. It fills a gap in our income range and the fact that we have some of the best managers in those areas is a real bonus.”
Webb believes the industry in its widest sense – fund managers, advisers and the media – has a responsibility to manage investor expectations, which spiralled out of control in the late 1990s. “We have allowed expectations of returns to far outweigh the risks involved in getting them. Invesco will move itself into a different perception where it ensures it is addressing the needs of investors to build long-term security, including training and education.”
He believes the industry will face some searching questions in the coming years, some relating to how fund firms react to the FSA's upcoming rules aimed at combating potentially misleading ads. He regards the changes, which will force groups to reduce the emphasis on past performance, as fundamental and warns that any attempts to circumnavigate them will be fruitless. “Groups will still talk about past performance but it will be in a more measured fashion. They will have to concentrate on how to build a profile. Getting round the regulations will not be the answer.”
One of Webb's strengths is being able to see when a different answer is required. On leaving Sherborne School For Boys in Dorset in 1981 with A levels including Spanish (his parents moved to Spain when he was six), French and history, he sat the Oxbridge entrance exams. He flunked spectacularly – “I was having too much fun at the time doing things 18-year-old boys do” – and ended up teaching English, drama and sport to dyslexic children at Stanbridge School in Winchester. He then spent a spell travelling around Europe, an experience that left him with “a lifelong hatred of camping and being poor”.
He thought he was making significant strides to avoid the latter by subsequently studying law at Bristol University with the intention of becoming a barrister. But when on graduation he found he had to pay £30,000 for a year's tutelage, he plumped for what he considered to be roughly similar employment – comedy.
“At heart, barristers are actors who want to show off so I pursued stand-up instead. I needed an Equity card, which I could get by going to drama school or becoming a stand-up or a stripper. Given the shape of my gut and the fact that I hate luvvies, I went for the stand-up.”
A s an actor/comedian, Webb joined an enthusiastic band of amateurs who in 1985 put on a show, Don Quixote in England, at the Edinburgh Fringe, with comedy routines performed on alternate nights. It went well, with an average audience of more than 50 (the Fringe average was seven). Afterwards, the troupe meandered down the country performing at clubs and pubs, ending in London. There Webb financed himself by working at a morgue and other jobs including running an off-licence and as a film animation cameraman.
But his bank's concern about his finances was becoming hard to ignore so he reluctantly applied for a job at Hambros Bank. He started as a fund manager but after three weeks of being used as a dumping ground for bad stock by crafty stockbrokers, he moved to the marketing department, eventually becoming general manager of the investment management division. In 1992, he joined Prolific as marketing manager before leaving four years later for GT, where he was managing director of retail. When GT was bought by Invesco in 1998, Webb became deputy chief executive of the merged retail business, taking control a year later.
Invesco bought Perpetual in 2000, with Webb staying as chief executive until last year, when the business was split into three divisions – operation, platform and distribution. Webb was made head of distribution, a role he has found very enjoyable. “We have benefited from the amount of leverage we can bring across and we are already seeing significant results from sharing skills.”
He dismisses as pure speculation rumours that senior staff from the Perpetual side are planning to buy out the UK business. “You would only have to go down to Henley to know that.” He describes the team at Henley, where most of the management team has relocated, as tight-knit and extremely committed.
Webb argues that Invesco still has good relations with its parent, Amvescap, saying the US market timing scandal has not affected the UK business. “You have to balance that against the benefits we get from being part of such a group.”
Will Invesco ever catch the mighty Fidelity, the only group sitting above it? Webb says Invesco certainly intends to, mainly through its programme of helping distributors, IFAs in particular, “getting under the skin of the problems they face”.
Webb spends his spare time socialising, playing golf and skiing. He is often out on the piste but no longer plays cricket, the sport at which he was most able as a teenager. He is clearly devoted to his three daughters, who are “hard work but worth every moment”.
His bank manager may not have been amused at Webb's efforts to be a comedian but you suspect he is laughing heartily now.
Born: December 7, 1962
Lives: Balham, London
Education: Sherborne School For Boys in Dorset, law degree from Bristol University Career: Mid-1980s, stand-up comedian/actor, morgue attendant, off-licence manager, film animation cameraman. 1986-92, brief spell as fund manager, then general manager of investment management division at Hambros Bank. 1992-96, marketing manager at Prolific. 1996-98, managing director of retail business at GT. 1998-99, deputy chief executive of retail, then chief executive, Invesco. 2000, chief executive. 2003, Invesco UK head of distribution (both retail and institutional).
Career ambition: “To take Invesco Perpetual into a new era where it is recognised not just for products but also for supporting financial planning as a whole.”
Life ambition: “To be remembered as a decent bloke.”
Likes: Socialising, golf and skiing. “Some would say far too much.”
Dislikes: “Prejudice and people who think they demand respect because of their title.”
Car: Mercedes C320