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'I wouldn’t ever invest in tobacco, those products literally kill people'

'I wouldn’t ever invest in tobacco, those products literally kill people'

At 11pm in the depths of a cold January night, a man in Mayfair was grappling with the job of digitally signing a sheaf of documents to get a £100mn merger and acquisition transaction over the line.

He was hoping to get the paperwork done in time for the transaction to be announced as soon as the stock market opened the next day, and to fulfill the business's commitments to calls with analysts and journalists. The deal happened, albeit with a delay.

Christopher Mills, who worked until 11pm on the paperwork in the hope of avoiding the delay, bounded into the meeting room at 5pm the next day; the deal was announced. He showed no signs of fatigue. 

Mills may well be among the most influential people in the City as founder and backer of a host of financial services companies, but if so, he is also among the most anonymous. 

The £100mn transaction that required his signature was AssetCo’s acquisition of fund house River & Mercantile. Mills is the largest shareholder in AssetCo, and a non-executive board member, having helped to set up the business with Martin Gilbert and others. 

Of AssetCo, he says “it is about backing Martin Gilbert”, and the business currently shares an office with Harwood Capital, the company Mills created and owns, though AssetCo is now in the process of finding its own office. 

Harwood Capital is the culmination of Mills' 40-year career in the City, a period during which he helped to found and sell several prominent businesses in the asset management and advice sectors; sat on the board of more than 100 companies; and has seen the City change from a place where governance was often ignored and where the American behemoths had yet to arrive, to the current world of ESG, compliance and consolidators chasing scale in order to compete with those very giants.

Mills is now 69 years old, but says: ”I will work until I die. I am one of those people who likes working.”

In addition to the shareholding in AssetCo, Harwood Capital is also the second largest shareholder at Polar Capital and Frenkel Topping, and previously owned stakes in Interactive Investor and Harwood Wealth, an advice market consolidator. 

Mills also operates the Oryx International and North Atlantic Smaller Companies investment trusts, alongside its range of private and property equity funds, which hold investments in businesses across multiple sectors including life sciences, media and leisure. 

It all began for Mills more than 40 years ago when he joined the investment bank Samuel Montagu. He says: “I was approached by a US firm to leave, and in order to keep me, they offered me the chance to manage the North Atlantic investment trust, and I have managed that ever since, taking it with me to the different firms.” 

After a change in management he did leave Samuel Montagu, where among his roles was negotiating the merger of two businesses to create the one that exists today as Invesco.