Northerners often refer to themselves as no-nonsense straight-talkers and JO
Hambro Capital Management chief executive Nichola Pease is no exception.
Northumberland-born Pease may be the chief executive of a fund management house but she has none of the associated pinstriped trappings. Power-dressing and talking herself up are most definitely not the way Pease operates.
The 41-year-old has an air of understated authority and composure. She comes across as being sure of herself and of her team's collective and individual abilities without spilling over into another “City” trait of bullish arrogance.
The reason for her distinctive demeanour can perhaps be explained by her belief system. Pease describes herself as a Christian and a “practical doer” and says her beliefs play an important role in her life. “I suppose what Christianity gives me is a proper perspective,” she says.
She places great emphasis on striking the right balance in her life between work and home. Success for the mother of three is about getting that balance right. “It simply is not an option to put one aspect of your life on hold while you concentrate on another. It is important to have a balance. Otherwise you lose out,” she says.
Once Pease sets her mind to something there seems little that will sway her. Even from an early age, the stubborn streak was apparent. She says she made the decision to move into fund management because it was clear that it was precisely the thing she was not supposed to do because of her gender.
“I was curious to understand it and knew I wasn't meant to go into fund management because I was a girl – so I did it,” she says. There must be something in the Pease genes because brother Richard is a fund manager at New Star.
In a similar vein of dogged determination, Pease would not be persuaded to stop the launch of the Dublin-based Oeic business in November 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in September sent markets into freefall.
The nascent retail arm now has £80m under management – thanks largely to top-end IFAs. This encompasses the European, UK growth, UK emerging companies and UK recovery funds. Although almost £20m shy of a first-year target of £100m, Pease says she is “delighted” with the way things have gone. “By this time next year we hope to be at break-even on the retail side.”
Pease is particularly pleased that, one year on, her team is getting on well. “What I'm really pleased about is that I would go out and hire the same people again in a flash – £80m without seed capital in difficult market conditions is pretty good going I think.”
She is eager to grow the business and has been busy interviewing for an alternative asset salesperson in the past six months. However, the self-confessed perfectionist is going to start again as the candidates interviewed “simply weren't right”.
She explains: “I turned them all down because I knew that none of them will quite make it for us. In this company, every single person is a key player. They have to be the right fit. You have lightning and you have lightning conductors and you have to get the right balance of the two in this business.”
Pease made the move from a big bulge bracket company after a “good innings in that environment” and decided that she wanted to go to a more “accommodating” company which allowed for a more balanced life. “I didn't want to be judged by what my colleagues thought I was contributing. I prefer smaller places run as meritocracies,” she says.
Merit figures heavily in Pease's way of working. She was the first to introduce performance-related pay in UK fund management circles. As she sees it, “personal responsibility is vital to this industry”.
So has Pease's innovative remuneration package put any-body off applying to work for her? “If it has, then they wouldn't have been right for us anyway. My team has a proven track record and can offer stability because they are part-owners in the business. They have to be confident in their own convictions because if they don't perform at the end of the day it will be felt in their pay packets.”
According to Pease, the trouble with the City is that it is very “Civil Service-like” when it comes to the issue of responsibility – only considerably better-paid. “In our business, you have to take the disappointment and hits on the chin just like your investors have to. You have to align your interests with those of your investors,” she says.
But City life could be changing, according to Pease. The present way of life for fund managers is on the way out, she believes, thanks to an “inevitable” customer-driven push forcing fund manager remuneration more into line with the JO Hambro Capital Management scheme.
Pease believes the company's policy of offering equity stakes helps to set it apart but she explains that it is merely a case of responding to a culture shift. “I think it is a generational thing that more people want to be owners of the business. They want to be more a part of it. So we offer them that.” Until now, she has had to recruit externally as the company is barely a year old but she hopes to foster some homegrown talent before long -people who will flourish in a “responsibility-driven environment”.
Lives: London, with husband and three children
Born: Northumberland in 1961
Education: School in Oxfordshire, read English at Exeter University
Career to date: From 1983 held fund management positions at Kleinwort Benson and Citibank; from 1987 chief executive of Smith New Court Europe and a main board director of Smith New Court plc until its merger with Merrill Lynch in 1995; senior fund management position at Rowe Price Fleming International from 1996 until joining JO Hambro Capital Management in 1998
Career ambition: To build a big, successful fund management company
Life ambition: To make the most of every opportunity that comes my way both in terms of my family, spiritual and work life
Likes: Straight people with integrity
Dislikes: Fudging and people who assume that life owes them a living
Peers say: “She is very entrepreneurial-minded and good to work with”
Car: Newly acquired BMW 5 series (bought after 13-year-old BMW finally gave up)