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Paul Wilcox

A background in mechanics and accounting has helped the founder of IHT planning specialist Way Group design the sort of engineered strategies needed to mitigate against the tax in an era when booming house prices have pushed more people over the threshold. By Will Henley

The founding director and chairman of investment management firm and IHT specialist Way Group, Paul Wilcox, is an admirer of the entrepreneurial zeal shown by people such as Prince Charles and the late Dame Anita Roddick.

Wilcox commends the business acumen that the Prince of Wales has demonstrated with the Prince’s Trust and his Duchy Originals organic food company. “I like the way he has always been his own man.”

His ambition is to run an ethical business aimed at benefiting its clients, staff and shareholders. “I believe this is possible and view Anita Roddick as an early and shining example of developing a win-win business.”

Home for Wilcox and his wife is Poundbury, a town near Dorchester in Dorset, designed virtually from scratch by the prince. A social experiment in town planning built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, Poundbury is an ideal place to live, says Wilcox.

Resting on the doorstep of the rich Dorset countryside, the town provides for a spectrum of society with its private and social housing developments. “I like the familiarity of a town where people recognise each other. The houses are so close together, everybody lives truly cheek by jowl.”

The Duchy has built and invested in homes while Wilcox and Way Group work to retain the value invested in them. Specialising in inheritance tax mitigation, Way Group was founded in 1996 with the aim of marrying portfolio-style fund management with strategies for solving financial challenges faced by investors. Wilcox says: “Way is the only firm to offer carve-out flexible trust arrangements linked directly to unit trusts as well as flexible normal expenditure arrangements.”

Today, Way Group offers an array of tax-efficient and tax-sheltering investment options for those wishing to mitigate the effects of IHT. “There is always a means of getting round IHT,” explains Wilcox. One strategy, the Way income plan, involves a cash reservoir topped up by irregular capital profits from which the investor takes regular drawings. The size of the reservoir depends on the income required by the investor.

For all the movement by President Sarkozy in France to reduce IHT and the pronouncements of the Conservative Party to replace it with a capital gains tax in the UK, Wilcox says he believes IHT will remain a prominent source of revenue for the Government.

The ageing generation of baby boomers born after World War II and the rise in house price values means that IHT is increasingly important to Treasury coffers and of concern to ordinary families. Wilcox says: “This is the first generation of people not petrified of debt. They are relaxed and borrow to do anything but they want to hold on to their household wealth.”

Life for the Wilcox family could have been very different had he continued along the path chosen for him at school. His parents and tutors steered him into mechanical engineering, leading to studying the subject in Cardiff. But after finishing his training, Wilcox found himself searching for a different career. Completing his rite of passage in book-keeping at Touche Ross, he moved to British Steel but frustration with the business environment quickened his departure. “It was full of job’s-worths. There was not a climate of problem-solving, nor was the business run on proper efficient lines. I felt I had no voice so had to go.”

A brief apprenticeship with two broking firms enabled him to hone his sales and communication skills. It was an invaluable experience in learning how to sell financial services. “I learnt about the psychology of selling and people’s definitions of need. I found out about the process you go through in educating clients about their life and financial needs.”

But unsatisfied with the idea of staying in broking, Wilcox worked on his own briefly before setting up Wilcox Young & Co in 1980.

Over the ensuing Thatcher decade, he built up a substantial business of several hundred portfolios. Wilcox says he was one of the first to understand the potential of the fund of fund market, which would bring him into early competition with Investment Management Selection chairman Richard Timberlake. “It was a small sector then and others were slower to get involved but only the pioneers get the scalps.”

By 1991, he had established three fund of fund portfolio-style unit trusts and won Micropal awards for his efforts. The firm merged with investment firm Christows in 1993 but Wilcox decided to leave and form Way Group.

He reflects that his background in engineering and accounting proved useful in his later business decisions. He says it gave him “a pragmatic approach to fund management, financial planning and the design of engineered strategies”.

Beyond professional life, he says his family, friends and travel provide a counter-balance. “A particular favourite is the Maldives where each year we swim with turtles, sharks and all manner of other beautiful marine life.”

He has been married for 38 years to a relationship counsellor and lecturer in counselling and psychology and quips: “No scope there for me to fail.”

Born:
Poole, Dorset, 1948

Lives:
Poundbury, Dorset

Education:
Mechanical engineering at Cardiff University

Career:
1996-present – chairman, Way Group;
1993-96 – joint managing director, Christows;
1980-93 – Wilcox Young & Co;
1976-79 – apprenticeship, Financial Planning Consultants & Investor Planning Associates;
1973-76 – accountant, British Steel;
1970-73 – accountant, Touche Ross.

Likes:
Wine, women, song

Dislikes:
Intolerance and over-regulation by people who do not understand investment

Drives:
Mercedes C320

Favourite book:
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Favourite film:
Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann

Favourite album: Just One Night by Eric Clapton

Career ambition:
Leaving behind a company that does not just sell services but serves a useful purpose

Life ambition:
To leave his family and others better off

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…
A serial entrepreneur

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