Richard Whitehead is a man on a mission. Eighteen months on from spearheading a management buyout from James Baxter Capital Management, which saw him and his colleagues take control of the former IFA business, he is clearly thriving on leading the challenge of growing the rebranded business.
He has enjoyed a steady rise up the ranks in a career that has taken him from Chase de Vere to Cazenove to Coutts, before his latest move to what was then James Baxter.
While he admits that it was a ‘brave’ move to push through the MBO in February 2008 when markets were experiencing freefall, it is clear that he is continuing to relish the challenge.
‘The market has forced us to be incredibly close to our clients. An MBO offers you an opportunity to improve capital and bring in new blood in marketing and direction,’ he says before adding: ‘It has been a challenge but I would not change it.’
The former Coutts man and his co-director Matthew Wille have successfully converted what was an IFA business into a discretionary management business and, with the financial backing of the Timpson family and a handful of private investors, the transition is now complete.
He says the 13-strong firm lost a sprinkling of transactional clients in the handover but the vast majority remained with the business, only too happy to find themselves under active wealth management with Whitehead’s team.
‘When I joined the James Baxter business five years ago, a lot of businesses were evolving to fee-based models. They had to go through the pain of losing commission offset and that inevitably leads to confusion about what you are billing for.
‘We told our clients that we would bill them 1% a year from their nominee bank account. That is what discretionary fees are, he stresses, ‘when you get paid by your client at a transparent rate’.
‘The commission model falls down when you are looking after people’s wealth.’
He is animated again by the perceived imperfections of some of his peers when dealing with clients’ money.
‘Considering people are offering you the opportunity to look after their wealth for 20 years, many groups are a bit of a shambles,’ he says.
Whitehead chairs the group’s monthly asset allocation committee, which sets the group’s asset allocation process.
The big test of whether Dart’s risk-driven models were able to respond to the rapidly changing markets came in the first quarter of this year.
The firm missed the very beginnings of the sharp equity market rally by being underweight equities in March which ‘hurt a little’ but has since participated fully in the equities rally albeit more at the lower end of the risk spectrum.
Whitehead stresses that the group does not want to go on a mega expansion drive but prefers to keep its culture and investment process intact and at a manageable level.
‘We don’t aspire to being a £10 billion company. We would rather aspire to reaching £0.5 billion by handpicking the best people in the industry.’
Whitehead began his investment career at Chase de Vere’s Bath office before moving to Coutts in 1996.
Like former wealth manager cover star Robert Morse, Whitehead says Chase was a great training ground for financial advisers but that a step-change came when he joined Coutts in 1996.
While at Coutts, he was to benefit further from the arrival of Towry Law’s current boss, Andrew Fisher, three years later. He had stints at Coutts’ Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds offices, clocking up 60,000 miles in a year, and putting his Chase financial planning knowledge to good use.
Fisher, he says, was a tough task master but a good one to have if you are operating effectively in your role (and shared his world view).
‘If you get it right, and are politically onside you are fine. Andrew [Fisher] was anti-commission and pro fee-based advice.
When he is not adjusting portfolios or meeting managers, Whitehead likes to fish near his home and enjoys playing sports, and skiing with his wife and two children.
He lives in Hampshire and reckons the 90-minute commute to and from London each day gives him plenty of time to extend his working day by keeping up with clients.
With this sort of work ethic, it seems unlikely the Norse-blooded Whitehead will be burning his clients’ boats any time soon.