Ladies who don't lunch: Maike Currie talks to Jane Andrews about religion, money and fund management

 
Maike Currie
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Both Jane Andrews's funds have delivered solid performance, significantly outpacing the market

Britishness dictates that one should never discuss money, politics or religion in polite company. It’s right up there with knowing your place in the queue and keeping up to speed with the weather. But not if you’re having lunch with Jane Andrews, veteran fund manager at investment house Smith & Williamson, who specialises in finding the best Asian and Japanese companies.

We don’t get there straight away. Over starters at the Angler, a Michelin-starred seafood restaurant just a stone’s throw from Moorgate station, we talk about her road to fund management – she is a rare woman in an industry dominated by men, something which also baffles her. “I am sure there were more women in the 80s and 90s covering the Asia Pacific region than now.”

Forging her own career in fund management has, she admits, been more chance than design. After completing school, and at a loss as to what to do next, she decided to skip university and “just go out and get a job”. She started working at the local authority in Hampshire, where the council pension fund was run in-house. While she mostly did menial office jobs, she had a knack for numbers and her manager suggested a career in the City. “One day, my manager came over with a newspaper and pointed out an advertisement for trainee investment analysts at Midland Bank.”

She applied but the two roles were given to graduates from Oxford and Bristol. However, she must have left a good impression because the head of department created a job for her and she started working alongside a fund manager running a global fund. “He didn’t particularly like covering Asia and Japan, so this was left to me and I just got stuck in, learning on the job. I really enjoyed learning about markets and the regions I was covering.”

In 1987, she moved to John Govett where she managed an Asia Pacific including Japan Income fund, winning a performance award just a year later. Since then, travelling regularly to Asia to research companies in the region has become part and parcel of her career. Today she’s the manager at the helm of the Smith & Williamson Far Eastern Income and Growth fund and Smith & Williamson Oriental Growth fund and is involved in monthly strategy meetings advising on Far Eastern markets.

When we meet she is just back from a trip to Japan and South Korea and planning another visit to Taiwan, China and the Philippines. “I tend to split it up. The jet lag is tough but I enjoy travelling, meeting the companies, experiencing the culture and getting an on-the-ground understanding of how things tick. Each country in my remit is very different – if you think of Japan, China, Australia, South East Asia, it’s such a diverse region. I enjoy that hugely. ”

With a track record of almost 30 years covering Asia, she has borne witness to the massive changes which have swept the region. “I remember going to Shanghai and standing on The Bund, looking across and there was just nothing there. A few years later, Pudong emerged. I remember sitting in the Peace hotel with a colleague and we were the only Westerners there. It was so different to what you see now. The speed of change has been amazing.”

Of the countries she visits, Japan stands out as a firm favourite – but not for its investment credentials. In this regard, Jane has experienced the best and the worst of the Land of the Rising Sun, witnessing the bull market of the mid-80s and the crash which followed.

“The market peaked around Christmas time 1989 and then it was just one-way. We have never seen it reach the same levels since.” She adds: “I do admire people who invest in Japan alone and have been able to stick to it. Thankfully, I have been able to look at the whole of Asia. I don’t think I could have done it if I had just covered Japan for all these years. As you know, Japan has its moments, but just when everybody thinks it’s really happening this time, down we go again.”

She continues: “I am hoping this time is different – [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe has made some progress, and there have been improvements in terms of corporate governance and companies increasing their dividend pay-outs. But global trade is anaemic – the world economy just doesn’t feel like it’s firing on all cylinders. It’s only limping along, which makes it challenging for an export-focused economy like Japan.”

Jane has always used a distinctly thematic approach to investing, scouring the Asia Pacific region for ideas and themes which she believes will drive consumer attitudes in this region, whether disruptive technology or the growing need for healthcare across Asia and Australasia.

Despite being a whizz when it comes to analytics and charts, she believes it’s not just about the raw numbers but also creativity and balance, perhaps two words that are not often used by fund managers. “It’s about thinking out of the box – looking at things laterally,” Jane explains. “I want to create a portfolio which is interesting, that captures new ideas and trends in the region.”

Having the freedom to develop her own investment style is one of the reasons she has stayed with her current employer for 20 years. “I have freedom… It’s not like I have an investment committee and need to get everybody’s sign-off. In some ways it’s like having my own little franchise. I like to make my own decisions and just operate better when I have got the freedom and flexibility to think and when a house policy is not being enforced. I don’t think there are many places like that today.”

But like any career, fund management has its ups and downs. “Everything is there, in black and white – you can’t hide and when markets are really volatile it can be challenging. You’re responsible for other people’s money and I take that very seriously. I want to try and do the best for people. I am quite competitive in that sense – I want to outperform… deliver.”

She adds: “It can be the best job in the world when things are going right and it can also be the worst job. When things go wrong, it’s horrible.”

The financial crisis was particularly horrible, says Jane. “Everything just seemed to freeze up. It was quite a stressful time. If your performance goes through a rough patch it’s terrible, although some of it might be self-imposed. I don’t work for the kind of place that hires and fires. But you do put pressure on yourself.”

Both her funds have delivered solid performance, significantly outpacing the market. But despite this, a 50-something Jane says she hasn’t achieved everything she wants to. “The funds are still small and I would like to grow the assets under management. I don’t want to end my career easing down. I want to see funds under management grow and feel that I have achieved something.”

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Well groomed and softly spoken, Jane is an “English rose” but doesn’t shy away from talking about subjects that could make others uncomfortable.

“The other thing that’s really important to me is my faith. Both my husband and I are committed Christians. We’re pastors in the church and that’s a big priority in life.” I ask her about the denomination and, when she explains more, I hesitantly ask whether it’s one of those “more uhmmm charismatic churches”. She smiles at my question and says, “Yes… I am one of those.”

Have you always been “one of those”? She laughs. “No, it was actually through my first boss in the City. I was brought up Church of England. I went to boarding school. I remember going up to take communion or something of the sort and the choir singing ‘let mortal flesh keep silent’ and being like ‘oh my goodness’… I didn’t like all the religious stuff.”

She continues: “But later in my life, I found myself searching for meaning in life. I couldn’t believe that you just lived the best life you could, you die, you rot away and that’s it. I thought there has got to be more to life than that. I was really searching. I had a good job, a lovely family but there was something missing for me. I did the Alpha course back in the mid-80s and it all changed.”

She met her husband through the church in 2003. At the time she was 39 years old. “We met in October, got engaged in December and by April of the next year we were married. We both just knew it was right.”

At the time her husband was a missionary in Romania. He had originally been in the food distribution business in the UK and, after the Iron Curtain fell, he took his distribution truck and some food into Romania and ended up staying for a number of years. Today, they still visit the country every year.

“I remember the first time I visited, I went to a city called Cluj-Napoca and I was shocked. I hadn’t seen poverty like that ever before. I had been to Soweto (South Africa) and the Philippines but to see the gypsy camps right next to the dump where they scavenge, and the thing with Romania it can be plus 30 or minus 25 degrees and people live in corrugated iron makeshift shacks, with no electricity or running water. I couldn’t believe that this was Europe.”

Do your job and your faith ever conflict? I ask. “I did have a career break at one stage – I wanted to get away from it all – I was thinking it’s all about money, money, money. But I ended up back in the City. I do believe that I am in the right place, doing what I’m supposed to do.” She modestly adds: “What I do and the money I earn gives me the ability to help other people.”

It’s time to get back to the office. We didn’t get around to politics but we covered religion and money in depth, I jest. Jane laughs. “Yes, it’s that old English thing… you don’t talk about… But you know, to me the most important thing is not to compromise who I am.”

WHERE WE ATE

ANGLER, SOUTH PLACE HOTEL, 3 SOUTH PLACE, LONDON EC2M 2AF

“Wonderful tasting menu”

Pricey but worth every penny. Faultless service, nicely laid table and superb food. Two of us had the tasting menu, and two of us the tasting menu with wine tasters too. We all enjoyed it thoroughly.

Source: Tripadvisor

LADIES WHO DON’T LUNCH is a regular feature in which Maike Currie profiles a woman working in the City. All interviews are conducted at a restaurant table – as an exception, nothing is eaten within the proximity of a PC, with a plastic fork or out of a cardboard box. Maike writes about investments and money matters for Fidelity International, following a career in financial journalism. @MaikeCurrie

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