Andy SowerbyMartin Currie Investment Management is about to open an office in Hong Kong or Singapore, which will report into the Melbourne office which was set up last year.

Andy Sowerby, a managing director of the Edinburgh-based firm, said in Sydney last week that final interviews would be done soon for the first person to be recruited for Asia (outside the firm’s separate China venture). Martin Currie was also looking to open an office in Continental Europe, possibly Zurich, he said, supplementing its London and Edinburgh offices. The firm also has an office in New York.

Sowerby, who first identified Australia for expansion in 2006, said that he expected the Melbourne office, which would oversee the region under country head Kimon Kouryialas, would expand to between 6-8 people in time.

“The Australian market is strategically very important for us,” he said. “The opportunity for Martin Currie is there because of the market dynamics – the high level of sophistication and the equity culture. I think demand for international investing from Australia will continue to grow, both because of capacity issues and because of the Australian dollar.”

He said his firm needed to make a “proper commitment” to the region. It launched an $A unit trust last year, using Equity Trustees as responsible entity, and launched a hedged and unhedged version of its main global alpha fund.

In another signal of commitment, Sowerby confirmed that Martin Currie was a big contributor to the recent bushfire relief appeal – donating about $A66,000. This came partly from the Martin Currie charitable foundation and partly from the fund manager itself.

The foundation was set up in 2005 for the firm to contribute some of its profits and also as a vehicle for staff to raise money. The biggest annual event is the Rob Roy Challenge.

So far the manager has only made minimal  redundancies at the firm, instead choosing to suspend bonuses for all staff. This has been possible in that the 250 employees also own the company, and they have elected to keep the firm intact to protect the client proposition.

“We see (the downturn) as a big opportunity for us.
Morale’s  high and our model (of staff ownership) gives us more
flexibility than most,” he said.

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