After all, the butterflies could not possibly have been anything to do with my interviewee, could they? I have been doing this for more than a dozen years now and in that time I have interviewed all the fund management greats. OK, some of the greats. Well, I once met Anthony Bolton at a drinks party and I am almost certain I saw Mark Mobius at an airport a few years back.
So what if this was an audience with William Littlewood, now of Artemis but once the custodian of the mighty Jupiter income? Sure, he is one of a handful of managers one can legitimately mention in the same breath as Lord Woodford of Henley – or indeed the only one if you have caught Mark Dampier writing on the subject for this very paper, The Independent, the Hargreaves Lansdown website and, for all I know, Vogue and the Bangalore Bugle.
Incidentally, don’t you wish Hargreaves Lansdown would come off the fence with its opinions about Mr Littlewood and his new Artemis strategic assets fund? I do so hate all this fudging and having to read between the lines. Only kidding, boys, I know you are quite keen really and presume I simply missed the email that equated the fund launch with the second coming.
As it happens, I have not met Mr Littlewood before. When I was covering Jupiter back in the late 1990s, they were inclined to operate a somewhat North Korean approach to PR. By the time I was regularly interviewing senior fund managers in the early 2000s – no, I was not convinced by my earlier false modesty either – he had left the company.
So, maybe 5 per cent nerves at meeting an investment legend, with the rest being down to the new tape recorder – oh, and maybe an element of discomfort because I knew I had to ask said investment legend a question that was at best tactless and at worst downright rude.
One of my biggest failings as a journalist is a desire to be liked by everyone I meet – proper hacks really are not bothered what anyone else thinks of them – and asking rude questions is not helpful in this pathetic ambition.
Still, I have managed it before and, oddly enough, the instance that sticks in the mind came during an inter-view with Mr Littlewood’s successor on Jupiter income, Tony Nutt. There had been some discussion among advisers at the time as to the suitability of Mr Nutt to run such a big fund and I thought this was a question worth putting to him directly.
“That’s complete b…” he began before looking pointedly at my (old-school) tape recorder on the table between us and recalibrating his reply. “That’s wrong,” he replied and then went on, reasonably enough, to outline his experience running a £1bn-plus port-folio for – if memory serves, eight years and one taped-over tape later on – Lloyds.
Good answer – and, of course, that is the point of the impertinent question. I am not having a go, I just want to see how you reply. That is why I found myself asking William Littlewood what – regardless of his killer track record on Jupiter income – he thought his credentials were for mana-ging a fund that, while not wholly unconstrained, has a pretty free licence to hunt among a range of asset classes and with the ability to short to boot.
“Everything I am doing in this fund I have done before – I just have not done them all together so obvi-ously,” he replied – or so my notes tell me. “To invest in this fund, you predominantly have to be convinced of my macro skills – it’s most imp-ortant. If you thought I am not up to it on a macroecon-omic level, you shouldn’t buy this product.” I would elaborate but I am still trying to work out how to download the recording.
Julian Marr is editorial director of marketing-hub.co.uk