In April 2010 Bill Bovingdon was driving his Toyota Kluger on South Australia’s Coorong Peninsula when he got a call from a headhunter.
With his wife pressing the mobile phone to his ear, Bovingdon was asked whether he was interested in in becoming the head of fixed income at a large Australian asset manager.
“After ten minutes I had convinced myself and him that I didn’t want the job,” says the former chief executive in Australia for Aberdeen Asset Management Ltd.
After more than a quarter century in the bond market, Bovingdon, 50, had had enough of working for large companies. After pulling his daughters out of school for a six month road with a camper van in tow, he now realised the only option for him was to set up his own firm.
Bovingdon decided he had to settle on the people for his new firm first. He didn’t want ultra-aggressive, ego centric individuals. Bovingdon believes those people disrupt others, particularly at critical times.
He wanted cool, calm and collected bond investors, those who had proved their mettle under fire during 2008.
Bovingdon grabbed Chris Dickman who was director of the funds management business at ANZ. Gavin Goodhand signed up after meeting Bovingdon. He was a senior portfolio manager at QBE Asset management. Vanessa Thomson agreed to work as head of credit research. She was head of risk and business strategy at ING Investment Management.
Dickman, who would become a senior portfolio manager at the new firm, provided the next crucial building block for the nascent firm.
The insurer and investor Australian Unity had been in touch with Dickman. With Bovingdon the two men worked out a business arrangement where both sides took equal stakes in the new firm and agreed to jointly make major decisions.
More importantly Australian Unity gave Bovingdon and Dickman $300 million to manage.
Bovingdon wanted the new firm to be multi-generational. He declined to put his name on the door. Instead the name Altius Asset Management was chosen. An office was rented just off Sydney’s Circular Quay.
Bovingdon had also decided that people wouldn’t be renumerated by bonuses.
“Bonuses are not the best way to motivate people,” he says over coffee not far from his office.
“There is no real transparency with bonuses and it ends up being a relative game,” he says.
Bovingdon says he pays his colleagues an “adequate salary” which he will not disclose. While there is “some potential for bonuses” the “equity participation” component that each member of Altius staff has entitles them to a dividend stream, he says.
He declined to disclose his colleagues’ equity stakes.
Altius invests wholly in Australian bonds, both government and corporate debt. Its $155 million bond portfolio is up about 6 per cent since June 2011. There is also a $145 million bond fund that is a customized portfolio for Australian Unity.