The Hong Kong office had some Australian connections, too. It was run by Tony Edwards, who headed sales and marketing for the old Alliance Capital in Australia in the 1990s. The senior sales and marketing manager was Christopher Gunns, who also spent a good part of his career working for Australian institutional investment offices. And Jason Henchman, the regional chief operating officer, headed Fidelity’s Australian business from 2002 to 2004. But in terms of culture and style, the big story for investors was probably the difference between being staff-owned and being owned by a big institution. Walker said: “Between 2003 and 2008 our parent’s main objective was to become truly global and active in virtually every asset class. We grew significantly, especially in terms of staff. Now, we have the same people but our objective is different: simply to partner with clients and deliver alpha.

“We’d like to grow, but prudently,” he says. “Our ambitions are not the same as before. I think some growth is good, because it shows that your clients are entrusting you with additional capital. But we don’t worry about whether we are the fourth- or fifth-largest firm of our type. We can simply concentrate more on investing well for our clients.” Despite the turmoil of the ownership changes in the past seven years, Neuberger had retained a remarkably stable workforce. Of its 400 investment professionals worldwide, out of a total staff of about 1,620, for instance, portfolio managers had an average of 24 years’ experience and about half of that was with Neuberger.

Walker believed that the nature of the relationship between pension funds and their managers was changing. It was certainly not about selling ‘product’ any more, from the manager’s perspective. “Pension funds are building their own teams and they’re looking more widely afield for opportunities,” Walker said. “Managers need to adapt and look for new ways to add value in their relationships.” A recent mandate win for the firm involved building a US$650 million private equity fund-of-funds on behalf of a state public fund to support secondary education. The firm also designed and implemented a US$1.9 billion liability-driven strategy for a state-run college scholarship fund. He said that asset consultants remained important, although funds with big internal teams tended to use a range of advisers, often for specific projects, to augment their traditional retainer-based relationships.

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