Getting to know the man behind the biggest fund manager in the UK

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robert-outram By Robert Outram, Editor of The CA

24 May 2019

Martin Gilbert, Standard Life Aberdeen's CEO, architect of the merger that created the largest fund manager in the UK was born the son of expat Scots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

He trained as a CA in Aberdeen with Meston & Co after taking an accountancy degree at the University of Aberdeen, followed by a law degree. He then started with law firm Brander & Cruickshank, based in the same building that now houses Aberdeen’s head office.

He said: “I was lucky that the firm was looking for a potential partner who had a law degree and who was also a chartered accountant to help with the fund management of the trust it was running.”

In fact, he never qualified as a solicitor. With three months to go before completing his legal apprenticeship, he left to co-found Aberdeen Trust, the company that was to become Aberdeen Asset Management, in June 1983.

Aberdeen Asset Management expands

Aberdeen grew organically and through a series of well-timed acquisitions, including the purchase of Sentinel in 1988, Prolific (acquired from Scottish Provident) in 1997 and Murray Johnstone (together with the Murray Johnstone art collection) in 2000. In 2013, Aberdeen acquired Scottish Widows Investment Partnership from Lloyds Banking Group, becoming one of the world’s leading fund managers.

As well as a keen eye for an acquisition, Aberdeen also grew its reputation as a manager in emerging markets, partly thanks to a philosophy of managing assets in the region where those assets are based. The decision to move the company’s Far East desk to Asia helped establish Aberdeen as one of the most successful operators in the sector.

How being a CA helped his career

Martin is proud to be a CA and said: “It’s the best qualification you can have... throughout my career the CA has been the most valuable thing I did.”

He also believes that the value of the CA as a management qualification has been undersold and said: “We’ve got to move away from the idea that it’s only good for people in professional practice.”

For the CA just starting out who is keen to make a career in business, Martin advises: “If you can, find a good small firm because you’ll get a lot of accounting experience, not just auditing. And if you are auditing, find a firm that does audits of small companies or estates, not just big companies.”

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