One of Neil Pegrum's main motivations for leaving fund manager M&G to join Insight Investments was that he wanted to join a player which was looking to grow.
While most fund managers are battening down the hatches and looking to weather the storm of volatile stockmarkets, Pegrum says he was attracted by the prospect of an aggressive company which was unhappy with the status quo.
So, after 16 years with M&G, he packed it in and moved to Insight, the HBOS subsidiary formed as a result of merging Clerical Medical Investment Management and the fund management arm of Equitable Life purchased by HBOS in February 2001.
With a new title of director of UK equities, Pegrum is running two funds for Insight, the UK discretionary fund and the newly-launched UK dynamic fund.
Not only has he moved fund managers but his new position sees him adopting a much different style to managing money. Most notably, the UK dynamic fund will be limited to investing in between 25 to 40 companies, a much narrower brief than he had at M&G, where his much vaunted British opportunities fund invested in well over 100 stocks.
Pegrum says: “I actually quite like the idea of running a fund with a smaller number of holdings in which I have conviction. Restricting yourself to those companies which you have the most conviction in gives you the opportunity to create real returns.”
Some might think the timing of the launch is strange, given that most people are predicting little in the way of an Isa season over the next three months. While Pegrum will not comment about the prospects for an Isa season, saying that is a matter for the salespeople, he does believe that 2003 holds promise.
“The economy could make some headway this year. Each of the UK, US and Asian economies will remain reasonably firm. There is not going to be exciting growth but 2003 should show an improvement.”
Pegrum joined M&G in 1986 as a trainee after graduating with an MA in history and economics from Oxford. Combining that with the MBA he earned on a part-time basis at the London School of Economics in the early 1990s and the result is that he has a lot of letters after his name. “Only my mother uses them,” he insists.
He was one of the first recruits to M&G's newly created graduate programme. Given that he has since gone on to become one of its most successful fund managers in the UK over the last 15 years, it is fair to say the graduate programme has been a success. “I was something of a guinea pig, I suppose,” he says.
For the first two years of his career, Pegrum shadowed one of the legendary names of fund management at the time, James Shillingford, who ran what was then the Midland & General fund. Shortly after succeeding Shillingford at the helm of the fund, he decided that a fund which only invested in West Midlands engineering firms may have been a bit too narrow in its focus. It was renamed the British Opportunities fund and would become the vehicle which would make Pegrum's reputation.
Over the last five years, the fund has been ranked by Standard & Poor's as 14th out of 195 funds in its sector.
However, it has not always been smooth sailing for Pegrum. Near the end of his tenure with M&G, he took over running the Innovator fund, a troubled UK smaller companies fund, in September 2001. He was perhaps unfairly tarnished by being associated with the performance of this fund, which began a long decline and has lost 75 per cent since its launch in June 2000.
Pegrum's other great passion in life besides running money is Southampton Football Club. Growing up on the south coast fostered in him a lifelong support for the Saints, who have been one of the pleasant surprises of the Premiership this season.
For every home match, he and his son get into their 4×4 and trek from Tunbridge Wells to Southampton to watch their beloved team. Having yet to see them lose this season, Pegrum believes his son is something of a talisman.
He has his fingers crossed for a possible European place next season and lists as one his life ambitions as seeing Southampton win the Premiership.
Despite the team's success, Pegrum is mildly worried about the hole in the ozone layer which must be developing over the south coast from his petrol-guzzling commutes.
Between work, football and raising three children, Pegrum concedes that there is little time for anything else although he says he enjoys cooking and he and his wife are working to restore their home, a 150-year-old former rectory.
At 38, Pegrum is starting over. Leaving one of the biggest names in UK fund management to join a sizeable but largely unknown firm may seem something of a gamble. But, given Pegrum's flair for managing money, one guesses that the gamble might well pay off.
Lives: Tunbridge Wells, Kent, with his wife and three children
Born: January 1964 in Southampton
Education: Graduated with an MA in history and economics from Oxford University in 1986, began a part-time MBA at the London School of Economics in 1993, finishing it in 1996
Career: Joined M&G as a graduate trainee fund manager in 1986, took over running the Midland & General fund (later renamed British Opportunities fund) in 1988, joined Insight Investment in December 2002 as director of UK equities responsible for the UK Discretionary fund and the recently launched UK Dynamic fund
Career ambition: To continue running money and analysing companies
Likes: Southampton FC, going out to pubs and restaurants, fitting in as many holidays a year as possible
Dislikes: Arrogance and snobbery, Portsmouth FC
Peers say: “Neil is a great stockpicker, with his own unique style. However, I would question the appetite of investors for high-risk funds like his at present.”
Car: Chrysler Grand Voyager