Abrdn CEO defends his style as shares rise 50%

Abrdn CEO Stephen Bird

Abrdn CEO Stephen Bird has responded to allegations that he has an aggressive management style.

“What you see is what you get from me,” said Bird in an interview with the London-based Financial News publication.

“I’m direct, I’m honest and I’m very respectful. But I’m very challenging and I should be. You can’t turn a firm like this around if you’re not.”

Bird’s statement came amid a rebound in Abrdn’s share price, which has risen about 53% to £2.04 from a low of around £1.33 last month after the firm was demoted from the FTSE 100.

A recent research note by Autonomous double upgraded Abrdn shares to outperform, setting a target price of £2.10 and describing the group as “a platform business now, not just an old-fashioned asset manager.”

Skeptical London analysts have also begun to look more favourably on Abrdn, which in July announced a £300 million share buyback.

Bird defended his leadership and said the allegations reported last month by London newspaper The Sunday Times were “very difficult to read” and “not the lived experience of the company.”

Bird continued: “I’ve been running businesses of this size — and larger — for 25 years and never had any complaints.

“We have anonymous lines in the company with zero complaints in them.

“When you have made 800 job reductions, sadly there will be some people disenfranchised — even if you do it in the kindest possible manner it will still hurt.”

Bird said he always sought feedback from colleagues: “We’ve got to have a culture where there is no fear. Fear is a filter we cannot afford.”

“I want ideas from every level of the company,” he added.

Bird’s comments come as the company prepares to move its London base from Bow Bells House in the heart of London’s financial district to go to the refurbished former London office of RBS in Bishopsgate, where it will occupy two floors.

“We’ve had the building changed to have a wide, open staircase to link two floors so the entire team is together,” Bird told Financial News.

“We’re going to have fund managers, risk and compliance, me, and everyone else in one place.

“That’s the culture we’re building — open and has no boundaries whatsoever. It’s a fantastic change for the better.”

Bird has previously said that he is not a “deal junkie” but he acknowledged that there are still areas where small, focused acquisitions would make sense.

“The shape of the group is largely settled. There will be bolt-ons but they won’t be the scale of [Interactive Investor],” he said, adding that investments in areas like life sciences and healthcare were potential targets.

“We’re under-represented in this area. Abrdn has got to be seen as a visionary firm and that is a big part,” said the CEO.

Bird remains convinced his strategy is right as he enters his third year as Abrdn CEO.

“We’ve got still more to give back to shareholders. Year three will be very much evidence of what this new Abrdn stands for,” said Bird.

“(Shareholders) will get rewarded with buybacks and people will say they can understand what this jigsaw was about.

“That’s my mission.”