Abrdn looks for new CEO as Stephen Bird steps down

Abrdn CEO Stephen Bird

Edinburgh-based investment giant Abrdn plc announced on Friday that group chief executive officer Stephen Bird will step down and that Jason Windsor, currently chief financial officer, has been appointed as interim group CEO while the company searches for a new leader.

Windsor joined Abrdn in October 2023 after just over a year as chief financial officer of York housebuilder Persimmon. Before that he was CFO at Aviva Group.

Bird’s four-year tenure at Abrdn has been turbulent. He oversaw a controversial and much-ridiculed rebranding that removed vowels from the company’s name, Abrdn was twice ejected from the FTSE 100, and the group’s share price fell roughly 30% during the period.

In 2021, Abrdn bought consumer investment site Interactive Investor for £1.5 billion. Bird sold the group’s £7.5 billion-asset European headquartered private equity business to Nasdaq-listed Patria Investments and sold its 50% stake in a joint venture with Virgin Money.

On April 24, 2024, Abrdn announced its first quarter assets under management and administration (AUMA) and flows trading update, with AUMA up 3% to £507.7 billion and total net inflows £800 million in the quarter. 

Abrdn said in a stock exchange statement: “Abrdn plc today 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.

“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 30th June, which marks the four-year anniversary of his appointment, to ensure a smooth handover.”

Jason Windsor

Abrdn chair Douglas Flint, 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.

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.”

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.”

Abrdn said Bird’s 12-month notice period commenced on May 24, and his “garden leave” will be from July 1 to December 31, 2024, inclusive. During this period, Bird will remain available to support the transition and will receive his salary and contractual benefits as usual.

At the end of this period, Bird “will be paid in lieu of the balance of his notice period from 1 January 2025 to 23 May 2025.” Payment in lieu will include basic salary, pension entitlement and contractual benefits, and will be paid in monthly instalments, subject to mitigation.

Employment will, therefore, terminate on December 31, 2024,” said Abrdn.

Bird will be eligible for a pro-rated annual bonus in respect of the 2024 financial year to reflect the portion of the year prior to the commencement of garden leave (1 January 2024 to 30 June 2024).

“During the period that Mr Windsor is performing the interim group CEO role, in addition to his annual salary he will receive an annual salary supplement of £200,000, pro-rata for the duration of the interim period,” said Abrdn. “There will be no change to his pension or other benefits.”

Windsor’s salary is £675,000.