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Pinball wizardry

Excellent salary, good bonus, private office, multiple desks, personal assistant, secretary, generous pension, health insurance – oh yes and a company car. A perfect job – no, it is time to leave. There are more important things than the illusory trappings of corporate life. Now don’t get me wrong – getting paid, and come to that, well paid, is extremely helpful – but is that really what gets you up before dawn and puts a spring in your step and allows you to sleep well at night?

I would love to say that my career has been a carefully planned process from my first day at nursery school – but sadly not. In fact, it has been a series of events which seem to bare more resemblance to a game of pinball careering from one point to another rather than a majestic tour to retirement.

But in my defence of this apparent irrational chaos, each pinball event has been a remarkable opportunity to learn far more than I ever would have previously presumed or expected.

From working on Southampton Docks, digging the London Underground (well, Bond Street Tube station anyway) being elected shop steward for UCATT (Union of Construction and Allied Technical Trades), managing a vineyard in France, training as a barrister in London, witnessing the pain of Uganda at war and the dynamism of the Far East, it has been a some- what eclectic selection.

But I have always been fascinated by investment markets and what amazed me was how much misinformation and ignorance there was on virtually all forms of investing whether directly in the stockmarket or via funds and pensions. This was not just ignorance for the clients but also an unhealthy acceptance of the status quo within the industry itself – “this is how we have always done it”.

In 1986, a group of us persuaded Barclays to invest in a new venture for Big Bang called Broker Services. This was to become in due course Barclays Stockbrokers. At its inception, it was a clearing and dealing firm for stockbrokers, albeit that one of the Barclays directors mistook it for a cleaning comp-any. Still, we got the money and the business prospered – eventually. However, for all that, the most important part was the decision to leave the comfortable bosom of one of the biggest companies in the UK to go and set up a new business with the aim of doing the “right thing” at what many thought was the wrong time. Stupid? Maybe but so far so good.

When Tom Sheridan, Graham Stott and I founded Seven Investment Management, it was based on mutual trust and a common attitude and ethic which we each had. The common thread was that we should tie our success primarily to the success of advisers we work with and their clients and to get away from the confines of the commission-driven stock trader.

I may occasionally dress like John McCririck but I do not have to behave like him – he can keep the punting.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that I can only be as good as the colleagues I work with. The greater the talent I am surrounded by, the better it is – and, frankly, I think that it has never been better.


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