The world is full of must-reads and self-help books. Some take common sense and position it as divine wisdom, while others aim to help readers formulate concrete thoughts and consolidate ideas. Asked about her approach to taking on a new role, Honor Solomon points to a guide she believes sits squarely in the latter category.
Legal & General Investment Management’s (LGIM) head of retail distribution for Emea was hired from rival BlackRock in 2014 with a simple task: to take the firm’s dominant position in the institutional market and repeat it in the retail space.
Before Ms Solomon’s arrival, the insurer-owned asset manager was the kingpin of the pension fund investment world, but had limited success with financial advisers and could have been accused of neglecting the discretionary space.
She says her task, as set by LGIM chief executive Mark Zinkula, was simple. “Mark said, ‘you build it. Look at the markets, look at what we have in place and look to see how to get us to number one’.”
The development of her turnaround plan was inspired by The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins, published the year before her arrival at LGIM, which claims to provide “success strategies for new leaders”.
Ms Solomon says: “I’m a big believer in the book. I spent the first 30 days really getting a sense of the team and the market that I had become head of. The next 30 days was forming a plan as to how we were going to structure the team, and what our strategy would be for the next five years. And then I spent the subsequent 30 days implementing it.
“[At the end] I had a new team and new strategy in place and a way forward. It was fast moving, but an interesting thing to do.”
LGIM may not have reached the number one spot, but the tactics adopted by Ms Solomon have certainly had a positive effect. The firm topped the Pridham Report’s net retail sales chart in the second quarter of this year, largely driven by the popularity of its passive products.
The asset manager brought in more than £1bn in the three-month period, pipping BlackRock to the top spot. The firm was praised by the report author, Helen Pridham, for its improved distribution strategy. Net new business more than doubled from the first quarter to a record level, with index funds and property in high demand.
It has proved a relatively quick ascent for Ms Solomon. Having studied in Paris, she stepped into the financial world as an intern in 2000 in a bid to improve her French. A year later she was entering Merrill Lynch’s London office in the firm’s investment banking arm, working in global relationship management.
Work with equity and fixed income trading clients quickly led a role focusing on Merrill Lynch Investment Management’s institutional investors. A year later that business became part of BlackRock.
“I went over to BlackRock and no one had heard of us, so we were going up and down the country talking BlackRock. It was completely unknown, and so it was a good way to start spreading the name. BlackRock then bought Barclays Global Investors and suddenly I was working for the biggest asset manager in the world,” she says.