I’ve got my sights on the top 10
David Aird talks to Bradley Gerrard about the long game – in investment and rugby – and on almost being a pilot in the RAF.
There’s no doubting his enthusiasm for his work, but had it not been for a minor hearing problem David Aird’s life would have likely been devoted to the skies instead of the City.
“One of my passions was flying,” he recalls, “and I always wanted to follow this route, but I was given some poor careers advice and told that if I could study and qualify as an accountant it would be a good career move because I would never be out of work.”
Initially Mr Aird followed this advice. He attended Nottingham Trent University between 1984 and 1987 to study accounting and finance and after graduating worked for Blythens Chartered Accountants as an auditor and accountant, as well as studying for his professional chartered accountant exams.
But he soon realised compiling balance sheets and profit and loss accounts was not something he wanted to devote his entire career to.
“One day when I was working in Nottingham, I saw a RAF careers office, leapt in and very quickly found myself part of a group of more than 120 people in front of a RAF officer in an aircraft selection centre in Biggin Hill and went through a four-day selection process to become a fast jet pilot,” he says.
At the end of the process, Mr Aird was one of only 10 candidates left and was offered the chance to join the RAF for pilot officer training at RAF Cranwell starting in 1988. However, there was a catch.
“This was subject to an additional hearing test because they had picked something up that was not as it should be,” he says. “The final chapter of this tough episode was that in early 1988 they sent me to Harley Street to have my hearing tested by an RAF medical officer who picked up a slight hearing problem. They pulled their offer. That was the trigger and catalyst to say to myself that I had to change my career direction significantly.”
Although Mr Aird is now a stalwart of the City, having clocked up a career spanning 24 years, when he began looking for work following the withdrawal of the offer by the RAF he was starting nearly from scratch.
“I grew up in Derbyshire and had no links to the City of London,” he says. “But I began applying for jobs at financial institutions in the capital using the Yellow Pages to find companies to contact.”
In 1988 he joined Royal Trust Asset Management as a London salesman working alongside people who he considers “significant” in his early career – Rupert Tyer, later a founding partner at hedge fund business Cantillon Capital Management, and Adrian Collins, later managing director of Gartmore and now chairman of Liontrust.
After just two years the sales and marketing team at the business was headhunted to join a new asset management business owned by Royal Bank of Scotland called Capital House Investment Management, subsequently acquired by Newton Investment Management in 1994.