Financial services was not the plan for Rathbone Unit Trust Management chief executive Mike Webb. In his younger days he was headed for stardom, performing stand-up comedy, playing in a band and planning a career in acting.
Unfortunately for the young Webb his bank manager had other ideas, and after two seasons at the Edinburgh festival and an array of random jobs, including off licence manager and working in a mortuary, the bank called in its debts and Webb headed to the City.
In 1986 he followed his father’s footsteps into finance, joining Hambros Bank. He did not intend to spend his career there, just pay off his debts and then continue on the comedy circuit, but the introduction of the Financial Services Act lured him in.
His law degree from university (which he picked because it was something new and then rapidly discovered he did not like it) put him in a unique position. He was able to work with senior members of the business across the whole firm to implement the changes as a result of the regulation, and was rewarded by becoming the youngest director in the group.
Webb’s next move set the tone for much of his career. In 1991 he joined Prolific Fund Management, a business that had fallen from grace and needed to be turned around. It was headed by Mike Vogel, a man he says had a big impact on his career and was an “inspiring leader”.
Working at Prolific gave Webb a taste for being something of a turnaround king throughout his career, and he admits he enjoys taking a fledging or out-of-favour business and building it back up again.
He says: “I’m quite a big fan of the challenge. If you join an already incredible business it’s difficult to know where to take it next.”
Webb says the key is to “centre it around the investment talent, install very good operations and a really high quality distribution and marketing team” and half the hard work is done.
His next challenge was to join GT Global Asset Management in 1996, where he became head of UK retail. He spent two years at the “very entrepreneurial and exciting” business, building up the retail side before it was sold to Invesco in 1998.
He joined Invesco with the move and grew the assets in the UK retail business from £1.2bn when he started to £9bn.
He says the business was “very, very successful” and it subsequently merged with Perpetual in 2001, where Webb was appointed chief executive.
He remained at Invesco Perpetual for another three years before a disagreement with senior management led him to leave.
“I disagreed with some of the policies at Invesco Perpetual. At that point I had been working for 20 years and I just didn’t have the appetite for it, so I took 18 months out.”
Webb travelled around the world for two weeks at a time, coming back to see his three daughters in between trips.
“I had the most awesome time. I learnt to scuba dive, I went on safari and I swam with sharks. I just really enjoyed myself,” he says. Ultimately, however, he decided to return for a new challenge.
He admits getting back into the industry was not a cakewalk, as there were few positions that were as senior as the one he left at Invesco Perpetual.
He eventually found a role at Hermes Fund Managers, which was predominantly institutional and wanted to grow its retail business, but after five years there a difference of views on the way the company should go meant he left for Rathbones.
“It sounds like I am always falling out with people, but I’m not,” he jokes. “I needed a different challenge and I wanted to move firmly back into retail. At Rathbones I could see the challenge in reinvigorating the unit trust business after it fell on hard times in 2007/08.”
As for RUTM’s turnaround, he says he is “nowhere near done yet”. When he joined in 2010, the assets in the business had dropped to £750m after being hit particularly hard in the downturn.
Last results for the three months to the end of 2015 showed the business’ funds under management were £3.1bn, up from £2.5bn a year earlier.
But while Webb wants to double these assets, he says he is happy with Rathbones being a mid sized firm. “I don’t buy into the belief that you have to be small or large. You just have to be focused, or offer all things to all people.”
Indeed, his main goal is to ensure RUTM is seen as one of the leading specialist investment houses in the UK. He recognises this will take time and, as such, is looking at five years to achieve it.
He has taken a number of steps to restructure the business and streamline its fund offerings, which has resulted in the redemptions being stemmed and retaining talent.
Most recently Webb changed the distribution structure at the company, moving the unit trust sales team to work across the entire Rathbones business to sell all of the company’s wares.
He thinks the fact investment managers at Rathbones hold responsibility and accountability for clients’ investments is a rarity that sets the group apart in the market.
Webb says the company’s strong focus on risk controls to ensure consistency across each investment manager’s portfolios and positions strengthens the process and means clients across the country know what they are getting.
So once the challenge is complete at Rathbones, will we be seeing Webb return to his acting roots? “Definitely not. I can’t think of anything worse now. You have to have the arrogance of youth to be able to do that,” he says.
March 2013-present: Group executive director, Rathbone Brothers
Feb 2010-present: Chief executive, Rathbone Unit Trust Management
2006-2010: Executive director, head of business development, Hermes Fund Managers
2003-2004: Head of distribution, Invesco UK
2001-2003: Chief executive, Invesco Perpetual
1998-2000: Chief executive, Invesco Retail
1996-1998: Managing director, GT Global Asset Management
1991-1996: Sales and marketing director, Prolific Financial Management
1986-1991: Marketing executive, Hambros Bank
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Treat others as you would have them treat you.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Pension freedoms, which provides the best opportunity for advisers to show their value.
What keeps you awake at night?
My own snoring.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day, I would…
Accept we have to solve the simplified advice issue so it can become viable. There is far too much ivory tower thinking, with little thought to the unintended consequences.
Any advice for new advisers?
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.