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Michael Hart: an obituary for the 1980s fund manager poster boy

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.

Hart also had a few choice words for the hedge fund industry, which was growing in prominence towards the twilight of his career.  

'There are some brilliant chaps now, hyperactive many of them. I was a bit dull and boring in comparison, more the steady type...I don’t like the high fees and I can’t invest in something when I don’t know what they are doing.'

After leaving F&C Hart had a tumultuous spell as director general of the Association of Investment Trust Companies, quitting the role in March 1998 after just two months. The exit came after a major corporate governance row with Hermes over the F&C-run Brazilian Smaller Companies Investment Trust on which Hart had served as chariman. 

'I felt terrible, and got really depressed for two or three years after that,' he said.

Hart left the industry following the experience, spending time watching cricket and working on charitable causes before his death on 28 May.

Did you invest with Michael Hart and if so what are your memories?   

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