The billion pound money manager

Kathleen Brooks
LIFE could have been different for Chris Oulton, but in 1982 he answered an advert at the back of the Saturday Telegraph, which offered an “unusual opportunity” to a bright young graduate. He applied and within weeks he had the job and was thrust into the world of commodity trading.

He found himself working for Liffe, the international futures and options exchange. After working in a variety of other trading roles, he moved into corporate banking. In 2007 he decided to set up his own company and founded Prime Rate Capital Management, which manages money on behalf of institutional clients, and he is still exploring new markets. He is about to launch the first compliant liquidity instrument targeting a triple-A rating for the Islamic wholesale investment markets.

Traders tend to be natural entrepreneurs, muses Oulton. Not only does it involve risk taking, but your own performance determines how much you get paid.

Oulton says he has “enormous amounts of pride” in what Prime Rate has achieved. One of the best decisions he made was to actually enter into a 50/50 joint venture with Matrix Group, a privately owned financial services company. Matrix looks after the operational side of Prime Rate, which frees up Oulton and his team to concentrate on attracting new clients and managing assets.

One thing he had not anticipated was the financial crisis. Prime Rate got going in late 2008, right in the eye of the storm.

But business trickled through and by the end of March 2008 it had attracted £60m. Assets under management have grown exponentially since then and now stand at more than £1.3bn.

Oulton calls Prime Rate his “David and Goliath” story. Its competitors in the institutional money management business are large banks including Citigroup, RBS and JP Morgan. After the financial crisis investors were more open to investing their money with small entities, opening the door for more business for Prime Rate.

He says the character trait most useful for an entrepreneur is to be comfortable in the role of leader. This has spilled over to his personal life, he says. “I was on the committee for our church roof restoration project and all of a sudden I find myself as chairman.”

The father of four says it’s too early to know if he will pass the business onto his children, but the advice he would give to them, as well as to budding entrepreneurs, is to “find an area that you can become a specialist in and preferably one that you enjoy. Then see if there is an opening.”

Age: 50
Born in Kenya, grew up on the Isle of Wight.
Studied English literature at St Andrews University.

Morgan Grenfell
Den Norske Bank

Married with four children
Lives in Hampshire.
Drives “an old Toyota Landcruiser.”

A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks.

Shooting, fishing, horse riding.
Other projects:
Once had a business producing pirate ships for children – a “brilliant idea” that just didn’t work out.