The team behind Melbourne boutique fund manager SG Hiscock & Company had its first staff departure in 11 years this year, but has already found a replacement and brought another two within its ranks.

James Ewinger was not a founding member of SGH, which evolved out of National Australia Asset Management in 2001, but had joined in 2003 as portfolio manager of the firm’s Australian equity long/short Absolute Return Fund. He left in January to run a “massive” Australian equities portfolio for Jardine Fleming in Hong Kong, according to managing director Stephen Hiscock. “It was regrettable that James left, but it was kind of an honour to have him going on to do [that],” he said.

Ewinger has not only already been replaced, but an additional two hires were made to expand SGH’s reach and research, something Hiscock had been planning for some time. James Evans took Ewinger’s place, joining Absolute Return Fund head Sam Scollo who has been with the fund since inception, and specialising in resources. Evans was previously a resources equities analyst with Tolhurst, and natural resources relationship manager/analyst at ANZ.

The Absolute Return Fund has $430 million under management, 45 per cent of which is presently in cash – the most defensive position it has ever taken, according to Hiscock. Demand from clients of the fund – predominantly through platforms – for more research and more stock coverage was the reason for making another hire to the multi-cap Absolute Return Fund after seven years with only two dedicated managers.

Michael Clarke, formerly the senior corporate finance manager at ANZ, started at SGH in March as a portfolio manager for ARF. His duties include overseeing the SGH Long/Short Fund (which is invested in by the Absolute Return Fund) and Australian industrial equities.

The long/short fund was “a true market neutral” fund with no gearing, and the demand for such funds was rising, Hiscock said, “There is no net long exposure to the equity market. For every long position there is a short position. There’s not many funds in Australia like it that are truly market neutral.”

After giving 15 hours of presentations in two days at a recent hedge fund conference in Macau with Scollo, Hiscock said overseas interest in the long/short fund was “astonishing”, adding the $80 million fund could comfortably take another $400 million.

The third new recruit was made to SGH’s concentrated Australian equities fund, SGH20. Doubling the team from one-man band Robert Hook, who started the fund in October 2004, Tim Wood has joined as assistant portfolio manager/investment analyst. He has previously worked for Morgan Stanley, as well as in a London-based private equity firm and in private wealth management in Australia.