‘We have a target that’s absolutely doable’

Taking on the chief executive position at an asset management company is always a tricky proposition, but for Euan Munro certain “legacy issues” meant his new role came with even more challenges than might be expected.

Mr Munro joined Aviva Investors in January 2014 after almost two decades at Standard Life Investments (SLI), where he started as a fixed income manager before ending as global head of multi-asset investing and fixed income. But the move was not all plain sailing, and he notes that among the challenges facing him at his new firm was “some bad practice that had been going on before I arrived”.

He recalls: “During my gardening leave I learned we were highly likely to be sanctioned by the regulator for inappropriate trading activity, which we compensated clients for, but we had all the negative publicity associated with that.

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“[I was] trying to build self-confidence in the organisation and create a sense of momentum and excitement internally, but trying to do that while getting a smack from the regulator is a challenge,” he explains.

“You have to say that’s more to do with our past than the future, but nonetheless it was a challenge and was a big part of the first 12 months.”

However, the past 18 months have not all been a struggle. One of the key highlights for the chief executive is the fact that, six months after he joined, the company launched the Aviva Investors Multi-Strategy (Aims) Target Return fund, a competitor to Mr Munro’s former flagship Global Absolute Return Strategies (Gars) fund at SLI.

“I set [the launch] as an objective when I arrived and didn’t really expect the organisation to rise to the challenge. I wouldn’t say I set them up for failure,” he laughs, “but I wanted it to be aspirational, and it certainly was.”

He explains: “To launch a proposition like that, you simply can’t [do] it unless its high quality. If you launch before you’re ready and have a bad first six or 12 months, people will be very harsh in their assessment of how good you are and how good the organisation is.

“So I wasn’t going to bring it unless I really felt we had everything in place. I said we’d do it in six months and everybody in this business got behind it and made it happen and that was truly satisfying. The fact we did it in six months was good, the fact it was then a market-leading proposition in the next 12 months was fabulous.”

Not bad for someone who originally planned a career in engineering, at least until he discovered the ceiling in an industry where the pinnacle appeared to be chief engineer rather than chief executive.

“That became a bit of an issue for me, as I always wanted to at least have the possibility of leading and being at the top of whatever organisation I went into. The other thing that concerned me was that nothing worked for me in the lab, so I thought I’m probably not going to excel at this,” he smiles.