John Husselbee

Husselbee on Axa UK Select Opportunities

John Husselbee

The only thing that is constant in life is change and so it is in fund management.


Fund managers are like the rest of us, being subject to job moves, illness and, eventually, retirement. In the prevailing ‘star manager’ culture, however, many investors choose to put their money with an individual rather than a company or an investment process, and this means it can be highly disruptive when a fund manager leaves an asset manager or retires.


There will clearly be instances in which selling a fund when a manager leaves is ultimately the right call for investors. But given the work that many groups are putting into succession planning – particularly for the leading managers who have been in place for many years – it is worth taking time over these decisions and not immediately rush for the exit.


We have been through exactly such a situation in recent months, with Nigel Thomas announcing in 2018 a long path into retirement and passing his flagship Axa UK Select Opportunities Fund on to his deputy Chris St John at the start of this year. After a long review, we have decided to remain with St John and the Fund.


We put suitability, transparency and value for money at the heart of any investment decision, and the change in manager of this Fund has met all these tests. We are comfortable in the knowledge that the fund will continue to be run in the same way – the group has stressed the usual evolution not revolution line and the process and philosophy remain intact – with St John given the opportunity to stamp his mark on this flagship UK equity vehicle.


Thomas has benefited over many years from investing in market innovation and, in a natural transition, is passing the Fund to a younger manager to continue this tradition.


In terms of transparency, we have been impressed with Axa’s communication around Thomas’ retirement, announcing the news in April 2018 and allowing a long handover. Thomas officially leaves at the end of this month but St John has been at the helm of UK Select Opportunities since 1 January and over the course of the last year, we have had all the access to the team that we have wanted. Moreover, St John was named deputy on the Fund more than five years ago and it has always been clear he would take over when Thomas chose to retire – further transparency from Axa in its attempts to ensure no surprises.

Such a long lead time means that we believe the investors who were going to sell have done so. Few growth managers with a small and mid-cap bent will complain about having less money to run and, as stated, the long notice period should mean St John is not facing a volatile assets under management profile in his early days.

The final endorsement comes from Thomas himself, who has confirmed he will continue to hold 70% of his own personal pension in the Fund, making him the largest private individual holder and emphasising his trust in the new leadership.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019, 9:51 AM