Perpetual Investments’ head of Australian equities, John Sevior, surrendered direct responsibility for $2 billion to senior portfolio manager Matt Williams last year, under an internal succession planning program.

Perpetual’s chief investment officer, Emilio Gonzalez, dismissed any suggestion that the transfer, which happened mid-year, was a sign the 14-year veteran of the firm was about to leave.

“We certainly didn’t do this in anticipation of someone leaving. The difficulty in doing this is that people immediately think John’s leaving. I get that question about once a fortnight,” he said.

An unconfirmed suggestion in the market is that James Packer, a friend of Sevior, has approached him to work at his family’s funds manager, Ellerston Capital.

Gonzalez said the internal asset transfer – which now sees Sevior and Williams evenly split responsibility for the $4 billion Australian Shares Fund – was “simply another step in Perpetual’s succession plan” which has seen transfers between senior portfolio managers roughly every two years for the last ten years.

“The amount [in this case] is not inconsistent with what we’ve done in the past. In fact we’ve probably made bigger moves in the past,” Gonzalez said. Perpetual has seven portfolio managers across its $38 billion Australian equities under management, each managing varying levels of FUM in different portfolios.

Before last year’s transfer, Sevior was sole portfolio manager of the Australian Share Fund, as well as the smaller concentrated equity and ethical funds. Simultaneously, Williams’ responsibility for $6.5 billion of the flagship Industrial Share Fund has been decreased, with $1 billion being transferred to Charlie Lanchester.

Overall, Sevior and Williams are now portfolio managers for $7.5 billion each of Perpetual FUM. Portfolio managers whose responsibilities remain unchanged include Amy Somes, Sean Cunningham, and John Harbord.

Cunningham oversees portions of both the industrial share and small caps funds, Somes manages some of the industrial share fund, and Harbord directs some of the small caps fund. Although they all draw from the same research, Perpetual began spreading portfolio management responsibilities among its analysts more than ten years ago.

“Back then, Peter Morgan [now running his own 452 Capital business] was the sole portfolio manager for the Industrial Share Fund. And we thought, how do we bring people along the curve for succession planning? The first step was to introduce John Sevior into that fund,” he said.

When Morgan left in September 2002, he ran $8 billion of Perpetual’s then $13 billion – another handful of analysts having been awarded portfolio manager responsibilities four months beforehand.

“As they develop and improve their record then we add to their FUM. Matt’s been a beneficiary of that, John and Charlie have been beneficiaries of that.”

Over the last few years, however, Sevior’s FUM has only decreased.