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Michael Hart: an obituary for the 1980s fund manager poster boy
by Dylan Lobo on Jun 10, 2014 at 11:47
With so much focus on today's generation of superstar fund managers, the passing of Michael Hart last month went relatively unnoticed.
Hart managed the UK's oldest investment trust, Foreign & Colonial for 28 years from 1969 before handing the reigns to Jeremy Tigue in 1997. In this period he oversaw a rise in assets from £180 million to £2.3 billion, while the share price rose from 8p to 160p.
At the peak of his popularity around 500 investors would make the pilgrimage to the trust's annual meeting just to hear his stockmarket views.
The fan club ranged from Warren Buffett to Tony Blair, who both attended his lunches. However, Gordon Brown was among the few to turn down an invite - 'Unfortunately, he didn’t seem interested in the subject at all,' Hart recollected following his retirement from the fund industry.
Hart had to contend with a number of extraordinary conditions in his career, including the 1970s oil shock, the 1987 stockmarket crash and the 1990s recession.
In an interview with the Financial Times in September 2008, 81-year-old Hart fondly recalled some of these extremities.
'I guess I started out as a naive optimist and never really changed all that much,' he told the paper.
'In 1974 stocks fell so far and so fast that everyone lost hope. But panic creates great opportunities and towards the end of the decline I presented a list of stocks I wanted to buy to the board. They were blue-chip stocks at bargain basement prices, so we agreed I would borrow some money and take a big bet on them.'
This basic approach, which he described as 'low risk nibble away', took him to all corners of the world to hunt down opportunities.
Industrial conglomerate GEC, was one of his most successful plays with a £300,000 investment worth £3 million six years later. He did have his fair share of disappointments too, including the ill-fated purchase of Eurotunnel shares.
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