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Stephen Bird stepping down as CEO of Abrdn

Stephen Bird
Stephen Bird: exits the Edinburgh company

Abrdn chief executive Stephen Bird has left the Edinburgh-based investment management company by mutual agreement.

The board has installed recently-hired group chief financial officer Jason Windsor as interim CEO while a formal search process for Mr Bird’s success gets under way.

Mr Bird’s exit follows a turbulent period since the former Citigroup executive took over four years ago. His departure, following a steep fall in its value over the period, has re-ignited talk of a potential bid for the company.

Under Mr Bird’s tenure the company has sold the Standard Life business and brand as well as its private equity division, cut 10% of its workforce, re-positioned its proposition and controversially changed its name.

Mr Bird, who succeeded co-CEOs Keith Skeoch and Martin Gilbert in October 2020, aimed to diversify Abrdn by expanding its wealth management business and by selling products directly to consumers. In 2021, he led the acquisition of his biggest deal, buying Interactive Investor, the UK’s second-largest consumer investment site by assets, for £1.5bn.

However, the restructuring was not universally supported and Abrdn has twice been ejected from the FTSE 100 as the company’s shares tumbled by more than 40% over the period. It has seen the demise of the once-mighty GARS fund and suffered big outflows of funds that has proved the ultimate concern of shareholders, although this has been a sector issue and there have been signs of an upturn.

In a signal of the market’s approval of the change of management, its shares closed off their high for the day at 158.55p, up 2.55p (+1.63%).

Mr Bird will receive his £875,000 annual salary and £158,000 pension allowance for his 12-month notice period and will be eligible for a portion of his annual bonus for this year.

Unvested share awards will continue to vest. He was handed a combined £7.7 million in salary, bonuses, share awards and benefits between 2020 and last year, according to Abrdn’s annual report.

In today’s statement, the board said it was “beginning the process of moving to fresh leadership, having completed the critical first stage of its transformation into a modern and digitally-focused specialist asset and wealth management company.

“Following the significant strategic repositioning of the company, the board and group CEO, Stephen Bird, have together agreed that it is the right time for Stephen to hand over the reins to the team he has assembled over the last four years to drive the business forward.

Interim role: Jason Windsor

“Jason Windsor, currently group chief financial officer, has today been appointed as Interim Group CEO, subject to regulatory approval, while a formal search process, which will include consideration of external candidates, is completed.

“Jason will focus on the execution of the group’s strategy and transformation plans, and Stephen will work alongside Jason until 30 June, which marks the four-year anniversary of his appointment, to ensure a smooth handover.”

Mr Windsor is an Oxford chemistry graduate who has built a career at the top of financial services. He is a former CFO at housebuilder Persimmon and the insurance company Aviva. He was managing director at Morgan Stanley.

During his interim period he will receive an annual supplement of £200,000, pro-rata, in addition to his £675,000 salary, and while the board will consider external candidates he is considered the ideal candidate to take over the top job permanently.

Sir Douglas Flint, chairman of abrdn, said: “On behalf of the board, I want to thank Stephen for everything he has achieved at abrdn over the last four years. He joined us as the pandemic took hold and, despite the restrictions this imposed, spearheaded a fundamental reshaping of the company, leading from the front to create a company that can be competitive in a fast-evolving sector.

“Adapting the inherited business model to be capable of generating sustainable and profitable growth required strategic vision, intense hard work and the courage to make tough but necessary decisions.

“While this was underway, Stephen took time to assemble the talent needed to execute successfully on his strategic vision and he passes on to them, with confidence, the responsibility to execute the next stage of our transformation. We owe him a great debt of gratitude and wish him well in the next phase of his career.

Douglas Flint: debt of gratitude

“Jason brought significant and relevant leadership experience to abrdn and since his arrival last year has made a strong start. The Board looks forward with confidence to working with him in his new role as our Interim Group CEO.”

Mr Bird, said: “I am immensely proud of the work we have done together to simplify abrdn and position the company for sustainable growth.

“Together with a refreshed leadership team and an incredibly committed group of colleagues at all levels, we have refocused our global Investments business as a specialist asset manager, working to address its cost base and build mutually beneficial linkages with our wealth businesses.

“abrdn’s position in the UK wealth market has been transformed through the acquisition of interactive investor together with investment in our Adviser business; these are essential moves as the ongoing democratisation of savings responsibilities reinforces the demand for simple and cost-effective platform solutions to support individuals as they address their long-term financial needs.

“It has been a privilege to lead abrdn through an intensely challenging time in our industry and I am grateful to my colleagues for their support and commitment to serving our clients with distinction.

“I leave the company well positioned, having embedded greater diversification of revenues, retained a strong capital position and, most importantly, developed a refreshed leadership team which is ready and eager to take on the challenge of realising abrdn’s full potential.”

On 24 April abrdn announced its Q1 AUMA and flows trading update, with AUMA up by 3% to £507.7bn and total net inflows £0.8bn in the quarter. Trading and net flows thus far in Q2 have shown similar trends to Q1, and abrdn will announce its first half results on 6 August.

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