With responsibility for more than £6bn across 21 products, John Ventre has quietly become one of the most influential men at Old Mutual Global Investors (OMGI) – and arguably in the multi-asset sector as a whole.
But, as the group’s head of multi-manager recounts, he had far more entrepreneurial ambitions when he pitched up at Skandia Investment Group in 2007. In fact, he had already run investment funds at a small business in the Isle of Man.
Mr Ventre admits he intended to “treat [the role] as a learning experience”, with a view to going it alone again in the future after gaining “enough skill and broader industry knowledge”.
However, after less than a year as an alternatives analyst at the group, Mr Ventre was handed his own funds: a range of six multi-asset portfolios known as Spectrum. He hasn’t looked back since.
Launched in April 2008, the range is part what Mr Ventre calls Skandia’s “revolution”, which is turning a “quiet, strategic, multi-manager business” into a fully-fledged asset manager with a far more active bias. So far, so good: as of the end of May 2014, the six funds had £2.2bn invested in them and had each gained at least 25 per cent since launch, according to FE Analytics.
“It’s been a great ride since then,” the manager says. “We proved we could do what we said we were going to do in the credit crunch. It wasn’t always pretty, but we managed to keep returns within customers’ expectations and participated well in the rebound.”
He argues that, amid all the marketing talk about how useful risk-targeted funds such as Spectrum are for advisers, the key benefits to customers are being “undersold”.
“Through many market cycles, investors tend to add risk at the wrong time and decrease risk at the wrong time,” he says. “They all wanted to buy equities in 1999 and sell in 2003.
“As a whole, more customers make those big mistakes that are destructive to their long-term wealth. We think targeting risk allows them not to fall into the destructive trap of buying high and selling low.”
After realising at the end of a law degree at Cambridge University that the legal profession was not his calling – “I think it’s fair to say I’m more analytical in my understanding; I couldn’t remember cases or anything like that” – Mr Ventre began his career in the City as a futures broker at specialist brokerage firm ADM Investor Services in 1998. In an odd twist, the firm is now based in the same building as Old Mutual and Skandia, overlooking the Thames.
“I draw a lot on the market knowledge I gained in the four or five years I spent there, trying to understand markets in close to real time, and what’s driving them,” Mr Ventre says.
“I still believe that you can pick up quite a lot of insight from live market action and how markets behave in the face of good news and bad news. When the data looks really good and markets just don’t react the way you’re expecting, that’s probably telling you something fundamental about the way the market is positioned.”