The chairman is flabbergasted by the suggestion that any of his managers might fail to return from sabbatical
"Don't you think it's rather appropriate that the FSA has fined Sesame for something called pensions unlocking?" chuckled the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet as we drank pints of So-Called Sabbatical at The Increasingly Overused Euphemism.
"Ali Baba would have been proud," I agreed.
"And do you think the appointment of Henderson UK Capital Growth's new manager might be described as a Rash decision?" continued the chairman, trying to look as if he had just thought of the 'joke' as opposed to having spent the past few days polishing it up.
"Only if you were writing a column and trying to fill up some space," I replied. "And even then you'd have to be fairly desperate. But come on now, stop trying to avoid the subject – you know very well what we're going to talk about today."
"The failings of the FSA's enforcement arm as seen by a company staring down the barrel of a fine that makes Sesame's look like small change?" asked the chairman hopefully.
"Well, maybe – if there's time," I said. "But first I thought we might touch on the unusual decision by all but a handful of SmallBlue's fund managers to take 10 weeks' unpaid leave – ostensibly to go backpacking together round Europe."
"Why do you say 'ostensibly' in such a sneery way, you cynic?" asked the chairman. "Did it ever occur to you all those fund managers might just be really, really close friends?"
"Not even for a second," I replied. "In fact, I know for a fact a number of them have a steady and long-term loathing of each other. The idea they would choose to go on holiday with each other for 10 minutes, let alone 10 weeks, is about as likely as the FSA punishing an IFA for mis-selling that wasn't already out of business.
"No, what this would appear to be is another case – albeit an extreme one – of fund managers taking a sabbatical to replenish their energy reserves in preparation for the arduous process of resigning as soon as they return. As the good, good people at Bestinvest have reminded me – and they must know what they're talking about because they have the word 'best' in their name – this is a growing trend that was kicked off at the turn of the century by St William of Littlewood. He decided to take a sabbatical in January 2000 and, if memory serves me, his resignation was announced really quite close to the end of that year's Isa season – purely coincidentally no doubt. Since then, point out the Bestinvestors, we've had the likes of Adrian Frost take a six-month sabbatical from DWS, never to return but later to join Artemis, and Claire Griffiths, who took six months off from Invesco Perpetual, did come back but then left shortly afterwards.
"More recently, we've had the Schroders double whammy of Robert Gall resigning to go to Insight soon after returning from a six-month sabbatical in July 2003 and Denis Clough announcing he was off from May 2004. Schroders have since confirmed he's not coming back. And now we have James Foster, on whose sabbatical decision I think we may have raised a gentle eyebrow six weeks back, telling us his break from business gave him time to think about the future. Evidently, that future had very little to do with Isis or F&C."
"We'll, I have to say I'm staggered," said the chairman. "Both that you should doubt any of SmallBlue's backpackers will be back at work on the dot of 10 weeks from now and also that that clever boy Foster isn't staying with FisiCs. Who have they lined up to replace him?"
"Luis and Ralph," I replied. "Which was something of a surprise because I thought they were two characters on Sesame Street although, on reflection, that might be Bert and Ernie."
"Mmmm," said the chairman, who seemed to have drifted off. "I once left a job to spend more time with my family," he continued after a few moments. "Only trouble was, Mrs Chairman left me in no doubt she'd prefer it if I spent more time with my colleagues."