For David Pinniger, an ambition to be a doctor was the unlikely first step towards a career in fund management. The fact that he specialises in biotechnology is perhaps less surprising, though.
“I did all the science and maths A-levels with the view to be a doctor, but I didn’t quite have the courage to do medicine at university so I ended up doing human sciences, which is a mixture of the biological and social sciences,” he explains.
“You’re basically using a variety of methods and disciplines to try and understand humans a bit better – why they are like they are and why they behave like they do – so it included anthropology, genetics, psychology, demography and human ecology. It was great.”
Following his degree, he eschewed the normal milkround route in favour of a year off. This included work experience at Sarasin, as well as the traditional “travelling thing”.
“Before I went away, I applied to various investment management groups and banks and got a job at Morgan Stanley in equity research. Then, before I left, they asked which sector I’d prefer to do and biotech seemed the obvious fit.”
He smiles: “It was around the time that everyone wanted to do technology, so the tech team was rather stuffed. I thought biotech would be a bit more interesting, given my background.”
Not only did his first role at Morgan Stanley provide him with a rigorous training in how to analyse companies from an investment perspective (“a bit like bootcamp for analysts”), it also introduced him to his current colleagues at Polar Capital, Dan Mahony and Gareth Powell. “I’ve sort of come back to the friends I made right at the start of my career,” he grins.
After four years at Morgan Stanley, Mr Pinniger moved from one extreme to the other, leaving a large multinational company for the world of venture capital.
“It gives you the opportunity to look at companies in a much earlier stage of development,” he says. “I was looking at companies from the start-up stage right through to when they become public or get acquired by larger competitors. That allowed me to get really close to the scientists and the entrepreneurs involved, which was great. I did that for three years, then got given the opportunity to run a fund.”
He took on the role of lead manager of the International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) for five years. While he focused on the quoted part of the portfolio, the venture capital investing side of the vehicle failed to deliver over time, meaning it gradually became “sub-optimal for investing in a sector that was going onwards and upwards”.
At around this time, he was approached by Polar Capital to take on the management of its planned Polar Capital Biotechnology fund. He jumped at the chance.
“I joined Polar in August 2013 and we launched the fund in November. It has had a great start and I’ve been out and about talking about biotech, which for the first time in a number of years is an interesting thing to do, and quite a fun thing to do as well,” he says.