Thursday 17 October 2019 4:04 am

DEBATE: Can Neil Woodford’s reputation ever recover?

Tom Berry is chair at Chameleon PR.
and Holly Mackay
Holly Mackay is chief executive and founder of

Can Neil Woodford’s reputation ever recover?

Tom Berry, chair at Chameleon PR, says YES.

Reputation in this day and age is a transient thing. The value of Neil Woodford’s brand might be at an all-time low now, but he has 30 years of successful investing behind him ­– and he has made a lot of money for a lot of people along the way.

Warren Buffett famously said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it, and that has largely held true – at least until recently. Go back a few decades to 1991, and when Gerald Ratner described his own jewellery as “total crap”, he was rightly vilified and his empire nearly collapsed.

But Ratner didn’t work in today’s celebrity-soaked, post-truth culture where unheroic failure is perversely championed.

When you stick your name above the door, you stick your neck on the line – and suffer the consequences if your star wanes. However, rightly or wrongly, people in Woodford’s position can find a way back: whether in the City, the corporate boardroom, or even in The Jungle of reality TV.

Holly Mackay, founder of investment website, says NO.

The foundation of every financial market is trust. Our currency is simply a scrap of polymer, but it carries the “promise to pay the bearer”. Without trust, the foundations of capital markets collapse.

Most people don’t recognise many of the world’s largest investment brands. But mud sticks and the brand of “that Wood guy”, with the unprecedented media interest that accompanies any fallen star, has been irrevocably damaged. The trust has gone.

People will debate for years whether Neil Woodford was a skilled manager for those with a truly long-term focus. I could probably make a case both for and against that. But the problem is that most retail customers thought they were buying a korma, when Woodford was in fact serving up a vindaloo. It did not do what it said on the tin.

There’s a treacherously fine line between pioneering genius and arrogant rule-bending. Against a fluid backdrop of Brexit, Boris and Beijing, investing is uncertain for all of us. But if you bend the rules, it goes against you, and you don’t show you’re genuinely sorry, there’s no coming back from that.

Main image credit: Getty

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