One of the most recognizable faces in the largely private world of British financial services, Martin Gilbert has made a name for himself by being at the center of some of the city’s biggest deals.
The 67-year-old could be settling into retirement but has just completed another big deal as AssetCo has agreed to buy River and Mercantile Group for just under £100million.
But let’s go back to the beginning to retrace his entire career.
Born into a Scottish family of rubber planters who had settled in Malaysia, Gilbert was sent away to be educated at Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen, before studying at the University of Aberdeen for a law degree ( the same year as Alistair Darling) and a master’s degree in accounting.
After college, he joined Deloitte and graduated as a chartered accountant.
In 1982 he joined the investment department of local law firm Brander & Cruikshank, and a year later – along with two others – undertook a management buyout of its investment department.
The new entity was called Aberdeen Fund Managers and had an initial share capital of just £10,000 with £70 million in assets under management.
Deregulation of the UK stock market – known as the “big bang” – was initiated by the firm, which opened its first office in London in 1987. By this stage Gilbert was no longer actually managing funds, having moved to lead the global business.
Of course, it wasn’t all easy for Aberdeen. The departure of its biggest client, Aberdeen Trust, in 1985 was a big hurdle to overcome at first.
Then, in 2002, the wake of the dotcom bubble burst hit the company’s large, leveraged stock of closed-end trusts – vehicles offering different classes of shares with a set lifespan of five to 10 years – leading to heavy losses, angry consumers and the attention of city regulators.
With 19 fractional cap funds, hundreds of investors lost their investments, so Gilbert was hauled before the Treasury Select Committee for a grill. John McFall, chairman of the committee at the time, said Gilbert and Aberdeen were nothing more than “sophisticated snake oil salesmen”.
During the period, Aberdeen’s share price fell 97% and the company ended up paying compensation totaling £125m, a significant sum compared to its £207m of own funds. Gilbert offloaded the retail business, with £840m of funds sold to New Star to focus on the smaller-margin but less volatile institutional market.
“Split caps were the absolute low point of my career,” he told the Financial Times. “I never want to go through anything like that again, but it made me stronger and a better general manager.”
Fast forward to 2005 and the size and stature of the asset manager had grown significantly. So was Gilbert’s trust and relationships.
That year he played a key role in the acquisition of the UK investment management division of Deutsche Bank and a related US entity, adding several billion pounds to Aberdeen’s war chest.
“Deutsche has been transformational,” he told Institutional Investor in 2017. “It nearly tripled our assets under management and provided a platform to market our investment capabilities to institutional investors around the world.
“The deal with Deutsche also gave us the operating model to acquire and integrate the following major businesses: Credit Suisse and SWIP.”
Even for those that survived the initial shock of the 2008 global financial crisis, many businesses were struggling. Aberdeen was not, and took advantage of the turmoil to take over the fund management arm of Credit Suisse for £250m the following year.
The so-called “taper tantrum” in 2013 – caused by low reserves and high foreign currency debt among emerging economies in which many Aberdeen funds have invested – has led to persistent levels of client redemptions.
However, in 2014 Gilbert opted for the Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP), buying the business from Lloyds Banking Group for £550m, increasing Aberdeen’s assets to £325bn and putting it in first place. rank of investment management.
Several (relatively) smaller deals followed over the next few years – FLAG Capital Management, Arden Asset Management, Advance Emerging Capital and Parmenion Capital Partners – before Gilbert’s arguably career-defining deal was finalized.
On March 6, 2017, Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life merged in a deal worth around £11 billion, creating the UK’s largest fund manager and Europe’s second largest.
Operating as Standard Life Aberdeen, the newly created entity had £670bn under management at the end of August, along with an estimated cost savings of £200m.
Gilbert became co-CEO alongside Keith Skeoch, but decided to become chairman in 2019, before finally retiring from the company in September 2020 after nearly 37 years at the helm.
Since then, he’s held several chairmanships, dabbling in fintech with digital bank Revolut, leading the board of multi-asset firm Toscafund, and being part of the consortium that backed AssetCo’s transformation from a fire truck rental company into a wealth and fund management company. consolidator manager.
With Gilbert at the helm, the latter company continued to play the market several times, taking a stake in River and Mercantile (before the eventual takeover), buying Scottish boutique Saracen Fund Managers for 2.75 million and paying significant shares in Rize ETF. and Parmenion.
“We have grown Aberdeen largely through organic growth and acquisitions,” he recently told the FT. “That’s our current strategy, but on the boutique side of the market. I said [Standard Life Aberdeen’s new chief executive] Steve Bird “you have nothing to fear from us”.
Outside of finance, Gilbert has also brought his leadership experience and entrepreneurial flair to several other industries.
He joined the board of FirstGroup in 1989, when it was called GRT, with Aberdeen providing much of the financing for its management buyout of Grampian Regional Transport.
Between 1995 and 2014 he was chairman of the transport group, and during this period he attempted an unsuccessful takeover of National Express.
Among his other chairmanships, he is also chairman of the Net Zero Technology Center in Aberdeen and became chairman of Scottish Golf in 2020.
An avid golfer, who reportedly plays with a handicap of around 10, Gilbert is also a non-executive director of the European Tour and has supported the sport through various sponsorship deals while in charge of Aberdeen.
As well as golf, he also enjoys skiing with his wife Fiona – professor of radiology at the University of Aberdeen – and their three children.
Gilbert received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2014 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2017. He is an Adjunct Professor of Finance at Imperial College Business School.
Back in business, he is a member of the International Advisory Board of British American Business, having previously chaired the UK’s Prudential Regulation Authority’s Practitioner Panel, as well as a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
In 2020, Gilbert was also named Chairman of the Oil and Gas Technology Center for the Energy Industry.
From 2016 to 2018 Gilbert was vice-chairman of Sky, having joined the board in 2011, and in 2017 he became an independent non-executive director of Glencore.
Don’t miss the latest headlines with our twice-daily newsletter – subscribe here for free.