Firing Line: Leigh Harrison

Daniel Liberto

“Fluke” was how Leigh Harrison, head of equities for Threadneedle Investments, described his colourful career journey from geometrics to investments. Previously a BA Geography and MSc surveying and photogrammetry student, it was not until the financial recession of the 1980s that Mr Harrison, a then unemployed measurement surveyor, found his calling.

Like many new graduates, Mr Harrison’s first years in work did not quite meet his expectations and left him considering his options when the economy and his job prospects took a turn for the worst.

He said: “In 1983 I didn’t know what the stock market was. I didn’t like my job as a measurement surveyor and in the recession there wasn’t much work – I was twiddling my thumbs. I set about trying to find a job in advertising, which most of my friends were doing at the time, and by chance I met someone who places graduates in companies.

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“I had an interview with an investment company and spent the whole day before in the library reading up on stock markets. In the end the interview went really well. He didn’t even ask me about stock markets and was educated and thoughtful and not your pinstripe-suit, bowler-hat type.”

In the years that followed, Mr Harrison fully immersed himself, grasped the tricks of the trade and developed a strong passion for investment markets. Throughout this intense but rewarding period, he added that his defining moment was when he met and worked under Credit Suisse’s investment guru Bill Mott.

Mr Harrison learnt a lot under Mr Mott’s tutelage and credited the experience as having transformed him from an average fund manager into an inspired and passionate professional with a recognised profile. In particular, he said watching Mr Mott speak with clients was a real eye-opener and played an important role in defining his own characteristics as a fund manager.

He said: “Bill goes out and sees clients and has a very personal strategy. Going out with him and seeing him speak with so much power and conviction and being so personal was a massive advantage for me.”

Nowadays Mr Harrison is a big name in his own right, though equally adamant that the art of learning is an ongoing process. Among his many daily meetings with colleagues, companies and clients, he explained that knowing who to contact for good perspectives on investment markets is integral to the job.

Developing a solid contact list comes with time and Mr Harrison now has a large variety of broker analysts and strategists to consult with. This, he said, is pivotal to better understanding of UK equity market trends and the companies Threadneedle invests in, but he also emphasised the importance of seeking out new people with different perspectives.

He said: “You keep learning in this game. The day you think you know it all is when you should think about giving up and, in terms of contacts, you have to be open to new people, new thoughts and new ideas as things change with time.”