Does this offer any lessons for fund managers today? Perhaps – anyway it’s worth telling the story again.
To get the full picture we need to go back to 1994.
Back then, it was hard to avoid Wet Wet Wet’s single “Love is all around”.
And things were good for Manek – who ran a very successful pharmacy business – as he won the Sunday Times fantasy fund manager competition, trousering £100,000. After he did it again in 1995, a benefactor gave him some seed capital and he was off.
At the start, returns were spectacular as big bets paid off, and client money flowed in. The competition wins didn’t look like flukes.
But when the dot com bubble burst those big bets unravelled. The fund started tumbling to the bottom of the performance chart, where it would stay, and the financial media (then more powerful than it is today) started putting the boot in.
… and that’s when my boss at one of the leading PR consultancies pulled me aside and said, “sort this out.”
What to do? I couldn’t identify any sort of reservoir of good will towards him. Fund performance was awful. There were no interesting investments to talk up. No big theme to deflect attention towards. The firm was too lean to churn out content.
I counselled taking the media hits on the chin, be helpful, transparent and positive – and ride out the bad patch. I thought that would be enough and people would give him the benefit of the doubt.
They didn’t. I was wrong. Things just got worse.
Did it matter that Manek was a Ugandan-born Indian, who stormed into a not-yet diverse investment industry? I’ve no idea. Some of the early press coverage seemed a bit sneering. But it was all pretty fair. Fund management is a stark business: good numbers make for good news, bad for bad – and this was bottom-of-the-list bad.
But here’s the thing: I could see passionate people trying their best. They behaved as well as you might expect in tremendously stressful conditions. Their investors lost money, some of them plenty, but Manek returned the unit value when they shut the doors.
This isn’t a comment on the still-suspended Woodford Equity Income Fund – though I did have it in mind when penning this article.
The biggest lesson is to know when to quit. If Jayesh Manek had his time again perhaps he’d have acted much earlier: changed tack, tried something different or had the courage to call it a day. Perhaps I should have advised him so. Hindsight’s great and I’m far more experienced now.
Soldiering on, when everyone is criticising, is unlikely to be your best strategy.
In life, when you feel under the weather, it usually doesn’t hurt to take some time out and pop to the pharmacist.
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