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A ‘renewal process’ at Allan Gray

In the latest of Citywire’s series of interviews with the heads of local asset management firms, we speak to Allan Gray’s chief operating officer, Rob Formby.

A ‘renewal process’ at Allan Gray

At the start of July, Allan Gray made an announcement that took many by surprise. Not only would CIO Andrew Lapping be leaving after nearly 20 years at the company, but the firm would be losing two other senior portfolio managers as well.

Citywire + rated Mark Dunley-Owen, who co-managed the Allan Gray Money Market, Allan Gray Stable and Allan Gray Bond funds, was moving to sister company Orbis, while Leonard Krüger, who co-managed the Allan Gray Stable fund, would be leaving.

Even for a business as large as Allan Gray, the departure of three portfolio managers is noteworthy. However, chief operating officer Rob Formby believes that there is enough depth in the business for it not to be disruptive.

‘I think we are fortunate in having someone like Duncan Artus that can step up as CIO with his experience,’ Formby said. ‘He knows the business, and he is passionate about it.

‘And if you look at the people that have stepped into the breach, and have been given the opportunity to start taking more responsibility, they are very talented in their own right. I think when we’ve got a depth of talent on the bench, it provides an opportunity for the next generation of managers to come through.

‘Obviously, the people that are leaving have done a great job for Allan Gray, but it also creates space for members of the team coming through the system. They are all tenured analysts and fund managers. It’s a renewal process.’

Transformation

Formby also recognises that part of this process has to be considering the importance of gender and racial diversity within the investment team.

‘The team of analysts we have now is far more diverse now than it has been in the past,’ he said. ‘And on the business side, you will see the same picture.

‘I think deep bench strength and long tenures is a luxury but it can make change more difficult. If you look at the investment team, it’s a long-tenured investment team and so it takes a long time to enact change.

‘What we have to do is select the right people and plan accordingly over a long period of time,’ he said. ‘The change in analysts and the change in the executive team has been a process over a while, and you are starting to see it now. We are not where we should be, but it’s a continual process and is absolutely something we consider important.’

Leadership

As the largest privately-owned asset manager in the country, Allan Gray is naturally the focus of a lot of scrutiny – not just in this field but also in the role it plays in the industry and society more broadly. Due to its size and reputation, it is expected to exert a positive influence.

This does not come without its risks and challenges, but Formby recognises that there is a role to be played.

‘We do try to enact change and create an environment where policies make sense in the long term through a combination of our membership of ASISA [Association for Savings and Investment South Africa] and BLSA [Business Leadership South Africa],’ he said, ‘We also try to make our voice heard when we agree or disagree with a certain policy direction.

‘A free market and a low cost of doing business, I think, are primarily what drives economic growth in the long term. And, as a country, economic growth is what will help us get out of the economic situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

‘And we have a role here, certainly as custodians of capital, to allocate capital to the most efficient, best-performing businesses.’

Sustainability

Allan Gray has also increased its engagement with investee companies on issues of ESG.

‘If there is an aspect that we think is in our control and we can make a difference, then we will make that difference,’ said Formby. ‘It’s probably less in the media because if we disagree with how a company is operating, with their remuneration policy, or how they operate from a social or environmental perspective, we will raise that with them and try to make a change in that respect.

‘I think we do try to play a leadership role. We want to operate by example both in the industry and more broadly. But we don’t always think that the media is the most appropriate way to raise or resolve issues. At times we may appear to be silent, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t playing a role.’

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Related Fund Managers

Duncan Artus
Duncan Artus Average Total Return:
-8.37%
71/109 in Equity - South Africa (Performance over 3 years)
Mark Dunley-Owen
Mark Dunley-Owen Average Total Return:
26.06%
12/56 in Bonds - South African Rand (Performance over 3 years)
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