Abrdn CEO exits troubled manager

abrdn SG Hiscock ceo

28 May 2024
| By Laura Dew |
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Stephen Bird, chief executive of troubled asset manager abrdn, is to depart the fund manager after four years. 

In a statement to London Stock Exchange, where the company is listed, it announced it is “moving to fresh leadership”.

Bird took on the role in July 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, taking over from Keith Skeoch, and was previously the chief executive of global consumer banking at Citigroup from 2015. He immediately embarked on a transformation project which saw the company slash jobs, reduce its fund range and rebrand from Standard Life Aberdeen to abrdn, a name that was widely panned by the industry

 

Jason Windsor, currently the group chief financial officer who joined last October, will take over as interim group CEO until a formal successor is announced. Bird will work alongside Windsor until his departure on 30 June, and Windsor will receive an additional £200,000 ($384,000), pro-rata, for the time he holds the role. 

 

Bird has a 12-month notice period but will depart on 30 June, remain on gardening leave until 31 December, and then be paid out for the remainder of his notice period from 1 January to 23 May 2025. Earlier this year, it was announced he had received a $1.5 million bonus in 2023.

“Abrdn announces that it is 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.”

Bird said: “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.”

Sir Douglas Flint, abrdn chair, 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.”

The firm has had a troubled time with significant job cuts and a fund rationalisation strategy implemented. In addition to this, a further 500 roles are expected to be cut by the end of 2025. 

In Australia, this has included the exit of managing director for Australia Brett Jollie, head of retirement and digital innovation Jason Nyilas and portfolio managers Natalie Tam and Michelle Lopez.

Last year, the firm announced it was moving to a distribution partnership in Australia with SG Hiscock as its wholesale distribution partner, as well as moving management of its Australian equities funds to the company.

Shares in abrdn, which dropped out of the UK’s FTSE 100 last August, are down by around 40 per cent since Bird took over the role in July 2020 and are down by 22 per cent over one year to 27 May.

In its 2023 results, the firm said: “In addition to our fund rationalisation strategy, we simplified our management structure, restructured our Australian operations, and refocused our equities and multi-asset franchises. These actions, taken in combination, resulted in the investments business comfortably exceeding its £75m cost-saving target with £102 million ($198 million) in savings delivered in 2023.

“The £102 million cost reduction in investments was driven by lower staff costs reflecting 8 per cent lower front/middle office full-time employees and reduced market data and outsourcing costs, partly offset by the impact of staff cost inflation.”

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