The word “chance” crops up several times as Leigh Harrison, Threadneedle’s head of equities, recalls how he ended up in asset management.
He qualified as a land surveyor and went straight into the building industry after graduating from university. But he admits that the work bored him and so he left, which was when a career in investment beckoned.
Mr Harrison continues: “By chance, I came across someone who was hiring for firms in the city and she had an opening for a graduate trainee at a fund management company.
“I went along for the interview and I did a bit of research beforehand as to what fund management was and what the stock exchange was because I genuinely didn’t know.”
He joined Hill Samuel Investment Management as a fund manager’s assistant, and in spite of his claims that he arrived with “no knowledge at all”, he did have a strong mathematical background.
It was also this first investment role that piqued his interest in UK equities. He explains: “I started in the UK because that was where my skills and expertise lay. I did pension funds and then I did small cap.
“I’ve never felt an urge to do anything else. This is a fascinating business; it is intellectually challenging and there is always something going on. There’s lots of opportunity to add value by the way you think about things and so the UK just happened to be the area where I started and I’ve always been interested in.”
In the years that followed, Mr Harrison did stints at Sun Life Financial of Canada and then Credit Suisse, until another “chance meeting” prompted his move to Threadneedle.
He admits: “I was frustrated because I’d wanted to join a firm where I felt I could make a difference and really help to take the business forward. And I felt frustrated at Credit Suisse – I think because it was a big international business with operations all over the place and the UK bit was just a tiny part of this vast empire.”
But he adds: “I have no complaints. I took on Bill Mott’s income funds while I was there and he was one of the leading income managers at the time when he retired and he was looking for somebody to replace him. It was great to have that opportunity. But I wanted to join a place where I could make a difference.”
Mr Harrison’s move was as much about the opportunities that the role at Threadneedle afforded him.
“Threadneedle had a big operation in the UK, but had great ambitions to grow the business . So it seemed to me to be a chance to join a big-ish firm, but one with ambitions to really change the profile of its UK equity business, which I think we’ve done a significant part of during the past eight years. We’ve gone through a lot of changes and it’s been terrific to raise the profile of the business and to have successful funds deliver a good performance.”