Nimmo: I am a great believer in running winners
Harry Nimmo talks to Jenna Voigt about his move from surveyor to star manager.
Even in a globalised world, not many investment managers have a floor of new meeting rooms named after various international cities.
On an unseasonably warm spring afternoon, however, Standard Life Investments’ (SLI) star smaller companies fund manager Harry Nimmo finds himself being interviewed in SLI’s very own “urban pick and mix” suite, located in its Edinburgh offices.
The so-called ‘Beijing room’ in which Mr Nimmo is sitting is especially apt in light of the aim of the interview – to talk Investment Adviser through his career.
When Mr Nimmo started working for the investment arm of Standard Life – now Standard Life Investments – in 1985, Beijing was housed in a relatively peripheral part of the global financial system. Now it is the capital of the world’s second largest economy.
The rise of a number of overseas countries like China – especially in the consciousness of UK retail investors – has helped change the shape of UK retail investing. Mr Nimmo originally built a reputation among UK savers in their domestic smaller companies market. Following growing demand for global funds, however, he has branched out into international equivalents, launching a global smaller companies fund this year.
In spite of his background in the UK, Mr Nimmo was already well acquainted with the wider world of international markets. He did a post-graduate diploma in surveying at the University of Glasgow, started his working life as a surveyor in the Middle East in his mid-20s and focused on contracts for Arabian-American oil companies for three years.
“I remember seeing a Harp Lager advert of this guy carrying a level on a tripod across the desert, and I thought, ‘That’s the sort of macho outdoor existence I want to emulate’,” he says. “You get paid monthly in cash, and there’s no tax.”
However, with “hardly anything to spend my money on”, Mr Nimmo started to wonder how he might put it to work. He went to his father and put together a list of “choice” UK companies to invest his money in.
“My interest was sort of whetted by that,” he says.
Wrapping up his time as a surveyor in the early 1980s, Mr Nimmo claims it was a “good time to invest because the markets doubled in three years”.
“I got more interested and started reading the financial press. I just started to feel like the oil industry was too cyclical,” he adds. “Plus, the future Mrs Nimmo wasn’t going to be found in the Middle East.”
Mr Nimmo decided to invest in his own career by doing an MBA at Edinburgh University in 1983-84 – in pursuit of a less cyclical, or economically sensitive, existence.
“You could argue investment has turned out to be quite cyclical, but it was a growth industry in the mid-1980s,” he says.