'To invest in Africa you need balls of steel,' says Aberdeen Asset Management CEO

You live and you learn: Martin Gilbert, founder and CEO of Aberdeen Asset Management, on low moments, Scottish independence, and investing in Africa.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 09 Feb 2016

I was born in Malaysia and sent alone to Aberdeen to board at nine. It taught me resilience, which came in useful later. But my kids went to day school.

In 2002 the Treasury select committee called me a 'sophisticated snake-oil salesman' for my role in the split-caps scandal. I had to lay off hundreds of people. I screwed up and it was my fault.

It was the low point of my career but I'm proud that I didn't give up. I got the business back from the mess I got it into. The board wouldn't give me the time now. I would have been fired.

That experience taught me it's too late to get to know newspaper editors and politicians when the shit hits the fan. You have to forge these relationships early and the investment gets paid back in spades. As a CEO you must always be accessible. Never hide.

Even before 2008 the banks really worried me. I said CDOs would cause terrible trouble and they did.

I know a mistrust of business continues post-Crash. Companies haven't learned from their mistakes. Everyone in financial services brought the system down but we feel it's unfair we're coupled with banks. One of the unwanted effects of the regulatory pressure since 2008 has been to erect huge barriers to entry in financial services and thus reduce competition.

I am constantly asked about my and our position on Scotland's vote on devolution. And I repeat: we are neutral and are making no contingency plans.

I love Africa for investment but you need balls of steel. You cannot attract too much money for frontier markets. But I admire Bob Diamond giving it a go.

Currently Aberdeen has 19 buys and three holds among the analysts. That can only go one way. Things are too bullish.

Why are Scots good investment managers? We have managed money overseas for more than two centuries. Scots investment trusts built the railways in America.

We don't necessarily want to recruit maths PhDs (Barclays tried that). Our interns are well-rounded people and have to be good at dealing with others. No ego. I'm the only one here with an ego.

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