Our fond farewell to an industry giant: Simon Brett retires

For financial professionals only

As the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end. We’re feeling this sentiment quite sharply this week at Parmenion as we bid farewell to our Chief Investment Strategist and industry stalwart, Simon Brett. After a glittering career spanning some four decades in investments, he’s hanging up his hat – but not before one final tête-à-tête where we canvassed his long career, the lessons he’s learnt along the way, and all things R – (of the adventure kind).

“I’ve had a long, fruitful and very eventful career”

As the story does for so many, Simon’s started in London in 1981 where, spurred on by rising levels of unemployment, he sought a business qualification. This came in the form of a 2-year accountancy course before securing his first job with the merchant bank, Samuel Montagu & Co, where he cut his teeth as an internal auditor. “I examined all aspects of the bank from Treasury, Capital Markets and Investment Management. I also visited their operations in Hong Kong, Singapore and Jersey. That’s when I began to think a career in investment management would be interesting.”

Armed with his first taste of employment, he journeyed to Bradford in 1985 to complete a Masters in International Business. “It was one of only two business schools that offered one-year MBAs and I was financing myself, so wanted a one-year course” though, he reminds us, those were the halcyon days when tuition fees were just £1,500 a year – “imagine that!”

Over the next 19 years, Simon navigated the complex ups and downs of UK markets in a broad range of roles as an analyst and fund manager at companies including County NatWest, James Capel, Commercial Union, Laurentian Life and Equitable Life. If none of these names ring any bells, all is forgiven; none of the companies Simon worked for still exist today (apart from Parmenion).

“I’d been involved in many mergers, but Parmenion was about building something special which could evolve over time”

Following a period of self-employment, Simon joined the ranks of Parmenion in 2006. At the time, it was work to a modest team of 4 operating from a serviced office in Bath. Just a fledgling start-up all those years ago, he saw something special – enough to return to the fold of full-time employment: “Richard Mein spotted the opportunity to combine technology and discretionary management and put together a team of great people, it was exciting.”

But despite the promising outlook, the crippling financial crisis of 2008 must have made it nigh on impossible to keep a grassroots company afloat? “Let’s just say we contacted a few advisers who’d tell us, ‘if you’re still around in 3 years, come back and see us then’.” Extraordinarily for Parmenion the business was cash flow positive just a year later, and by 2012 was really enjoying the fruits of his (instrumental) labour, “adding £20m a month in AUM is a milestone that’s really stuck with me.”

“His work at Parmenion has helped us to transform the CIP market”

Without doubt, Simon’s biggest contribution to the business was the establishment of our PIM team, now 11-strong and responsible for much of the £7.5bn in AUM at Parmenion. Overseeing the creation of market-leading solutions might induce most to a proud anecdote or two, but not Simon, dismissing anything like praise: “I wish I could say I had something to do with [Parmenion’s success]. You will always have affection for the early solutions, and they’ve proved resilient over the years. I especially enjoyed the Tactical solution and changing the asset allocation as market conditions changed.”

“The ups have outweighed the inevitable downs and I have learnt some very valuable life lessons”

Bookended by the crash of 2008 and now the Covid pandemic, Simon’s 14 years at Parmenion have covered some extraordinary times in investing, and for this he has some lessons:

  1. The future is uncertain and that’s part of the challenge of investing
  2. Read widely; investing encompasses everything whether it be technology, politics, demographics and now even the spread of disease
  3. It may not feel it at times, but the world is getting better – and richer, there are many reasons to be optimistic
  4. This may sound contradictory to point 3, but always ask, what is the downside?
  5. We always forget and each generation has to learn from its own mistakes. Bad times e.g. a crash, are easily forgotten and we move on again
  6. You need a thick skin – and the money isn’t where you think it is. Our success in Bristol proves you don’t need to be in London

Any other words he lives by? “Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world.”

So what’s next? Well, one Michael Palin-esque trip round the world by train with his wife if the pandemic allows, and maybe a move to the regency town of Cheltenham to enjoy all of its wonderful festivals and nightlife.

For a moment, a little sadness stirs the air. Then a sudden wry smile returns to his face: ‘My time at Parmenion has been particularly special for me’ – as it has for us, Simon.

Read our press announcement on Simon’s retirement here.

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