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Nightmare before Christmas

A decade or so ago, I used to call Gartmore Grotmare – but only because I find that sort of thing amusing, not because I am psychic. And yet, as we wander gently towards the first anniversary of the company’s flotation in January, plenty of people seem trapped in what might now be fairly unabbreviated to a “grotesque nightmare”.

Dangerously, I am not talking about the company’s investors so much as its staff although before I attempt to back up a statement so at odds with the prevailing City-bashing spirit of the day, I should declare an interest – Gartmore is a sponsor of my day job and for that I am pathetically grateful and constantly blessing its tiny corporate cotton socks.

Nevertheless – and you will just have to take my word for it – what follows is not inspired by anything other than what might laughingly be called my innate sense of fair play. For Gartmore’s stock, both actual and metaphorical, has sunk so low that the personal finance sections of national newspapers have got involved and that is when things get subjective, selective and just plain messy.

For their part, the City sections have been on Gartmore’s case for about a year now and that timing is instructive. Yes, their outrage could have been solely provoked by a fund manager being clueless, arrogant or whatever enough to break a compliance rule that was imposed in-house in an attempt – oh, the irony – to be whiter than white.

And maybe that sense of righteous anger was enhanced by the discovery that the same manager had a spot of previous a few years earlier – although nobody seemed particularly bothered that a manager from another well-known fund group had erred in a similar way.

My instinct is that, in the eyes of the City press, Gartmore’s major sin was to carry on regardless with its flotation and, once it had – with not nearly as many people making their fortunes in the process as should have done – it was open season. That is when any good-news story a company tries to put out is inevitably appended with a quick reminder of all the bad stuff and any bad-news story is given far greater weight and prominence. Then life becomes very hard indeed.

This is a shame because if, heaven forbid, we were to be objective, we could point to some good things happening at Gartmore over the last year or two. The rise in morale – seriously – is anecdotal if prevalent but what about the job it did of addressing arguably its biggest fault line – an over-reliance on Roger Guy?
It brought in the more than capable John Bennett to run his retail money, recruited a new head of credit and butched up an already decent UK team so that a line-up now including Burvill, Himsworth, Newman, Roberts, Sadan and Wallace is one many compe-titors would be proud to boast.

Oops, maybe I should not have put it like that because, of course, Gartmore is now being linked with all the usual takeover suspects. It goes without saying that includes Henderson, which must have had its interest “Peaked” – ho, ho – and then, I don’t know, Schroders maybe? Aberdeen? Second Coming Asset Management, obviously.

Sadly, such an outcome might ultimately be kinder because, despite the positives, Gartmore seems to have developed a spectacular knack of shooting itself in the foot. Hiring Squidman Sachs to conduct a strategic review less than a year after you float and despite all those good hires? And just after the contingency you actually planned for came to pass? No, that does not smack of panic much.

And who approved the idea to publicise the departures of Guy, Dominic Rossi and Darrell O’Dea on the same day? Death by a thousand cuts may be unpalatable but I bet it does not seem so bad compared with death by one really big self-inflicted disembowelling now does it? Next to that, the intelligence-insulting cliche that Guy is to spend more time with his family pales somewhat although, again, whoever signed that off needs PR lessons.

Add in too that well-intentioned but pointless compliance regime and one has to wonder if it is not so much a Grotmare as a Night-meyer on Fenchurch Street.

Julian Marr is editorial director of www.marketing-hub.co.uk and www.thoughtleadershiplive.com

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