Gilbert risks poaching row as R&M raids Aberdeen to find top exec | Business News

The veteran fund manager Martin Gilbert risks becoming embroiled in a poaching row with his former employer by raiding Standard Life Aberdeen’s (SLA) funds arm to hire an executive for another company where he is a director.

Sky News has learnt that Alex Hoctor-Duncan, the global head of Aberdeen Standard Investment (ASI), has quit to become an executive director of River & Mercantile Group (R&M), the London-listed investor.

City sources said that Mr Hoctor-Duncan’s appointment was likely to be announced on Tuesday. His arrival there will come nearly five months after Mr Gilbert was appointed as R&M’s deputy chairman.

AssetCo – a cash shell that Mr Gilbert has assumed control of as his main corporate vehicle with a view to pursuing consolidation across the asset management sector – holds a stake of nearly 6% in R&M.

The decision to poach Mr Hoctor-Duncan is likely to irritate SLA, although industry executives said the appointment of Rene Baumann and Chris Demetriou as regional heads of ASI had driven a structural change in the firm’s distribution model, lessening the potential impact of Mr Hoctor-Duncan’s exit.

A source close to R&M insisted that Mr Gilbert had not been instrumental in Mr Hoctor-Duncan’s appointment.

Mr Gilbert is one of the best-known figures in Britain’s asset management industry, having founded Aberdeen Asset Management before engineering the biggest coup of his career in 2017 when he sealed an £11bn all-share merger with Standard Life to create Europe’s second-largest asset manager.

The deal failed to win over sceptics, however, leading to huge fund outflows and the departures of both Mr Gilbert and Keith Skeoch, his co-chief executive.

Last month, Sky News revealed that Mr Gilbert had become embroiled in a bizarre spat with ASI that saw his own shares in AssetCo initially being used to oppose his election to its board.

The decision was overturned ahead of the vote after the City veteran intervened.

Since leaving SLA, Mr Gilbert has amassed a portfolio of roles, including as chairman of the digital bank Revolut and directorships at companies including Saranac, a wealth manager.

Prior to Mr Gilbert’s investment, AssetCo was best-known as the listed fire engine leasing group which successfully sued its former auditor, Grant Thornton, for more than £20m over its failure to expose a fraud at the company.

Last week, AssetCo announced the purchase of Saracen Fund Managers, a tiny asset manager, for £2.75m.

Analysts expect that to presage a series of larger takeovers.
“We grew Aberdeen largely by organic growth and acquisitions,” Mr Gilbert told the Financial Times.

“That is our current strategy but at the boutique end of the market.

“I’ve told [Standard Life Aberdeen chief executive] Steve Bird ‘you’ve nothing to fear from us’.”

At AssetCo, he has assembled a team which includes a number of Mr Gilbert’s former colleagues.

Mr Hoctor-Duncan will report to James Barham, R&M’s chief executive.

The company has a market value of less than £200m, making it a relative minnow in an industry increasingly driven by scale.

SLA and R&M both declined to comment.

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