When Robyn Grew was working for Lehman Brothers in London in 1999, Japanese regulators raided the bank as part of an investigation into accusations that it and others had helped financial institutions conceal losses.
Grew was quickly dispatched to Tokyo by Lehman’s top brass to help deal with the bank’s response. She spent the next year flying back and forth between the two capital cities, eventually moving there with her wife for a stint.
The episode reflects several traits that close associates say define Grew: a quick thinker and a natural problem solver whose curiosity drives an eagerness to learn on her feet.
This week the gregarious former barrister was named incoming chief executive of Man, the world’s largest listed hedge fund manager with $144.7bn in assets under management.
By the end of this year — and for the first time since it began life in the sugar industry in the late 18th century — Man will be led by two women.
Grew will replace longstanding chief Luke Ellis in September, and former Capital International executive Anne Wade is taking over from investment banker John Cryan as chair.
For 54-year-old Grew, who at present is the president of Man, the promotion marks the culmination of a 14-year career at the FTSE 250 group that she joined in 2009 as its chief compliance officer. Since then she has held a variety of positions including global head of legal and compliance, chief operating officer, general counsel, group COO and head of environmental social and governance.
“I’ve seen her in various avatars . . . she’s quite a force of nature,” said Dev Sanyal, chief executive of Varo Energy and a former non-executive director at Man. “She has a strong compass about who she is and what she does.”
Born in London to an NHS doctor father and a school teacher mother, Grew attended grammar school in Essex and had little idea that the world of financial services even existed.
She studied business law at Coventry University before qualifying as a criminal barrister and then being tempted into the more lucrative world of finance.
Responding to a newspaper advertisement, she joined Fidelity in 1994, followed by a move to the trading floor — the then London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange — during its heyday as an open outcry exchange.
She followed LIFFE with senior positions at Lehman and Barclays Capital. Then a call from the top executives of hedge fund GLG Partners — spun out of Lehman and who she knew from her days there — piqued her curiosity. She joined GLG and the hedge fund industry in 2009, and the following year Man bought GLG for $1.6bn.
Man today is a very different business to the one Grew first knew. The deal was regarded as a reverse takeover by GLG and its aftermath was marked by a testing period of client withdrawals, poor performance at Man’s flagship quantitative strategy unit, AHL, and a culture clash between GLG’s swashbuckling star traders and Man’s PhD quants. The GLG acquisition was later written down by more than $1bn.
Then Manny Roman was appointed Man chief executive in 2013, followed by Ellis in 2016, kicking off a reboot of the company. Behind the scenes, Grew played a central role in the group’s turnround and recovery, working with Roman, Ellis and the then chief financial officer Jonathan Sorrell. She was “the definition of cool, calm and collected” in navigating the egos involved, said one person there at the time.
“There were some quite difficult things we had to do in reorienting the business,” recalled Sorrell, now president of Capstone Investment Advisors. “Robyn was someone you could always count on to do the right thing and move things forward.”
Kate Barker, a former non-executive at Man, said: “She’s really good at pulling out the meat of an issue and distinguishing between big strategic issues and the detail.”
According to those who have worked with her, Grew is an empathetic colleague and a vocal champion of difference — not diversity in the box-ticking sense, but diversity of thought, talent and approach.
While she has on occasion encountered sexism and homophobia in her own career, Grew has met this with customary candour, believing that “turning up and being me and living who I am and talking about my wife and son is incredibly persuasive”, as she has told friends.
Grew inherits a business in good shape that has evolved from a siloed organisation to a large technology-driven investment group. Today 60 per cent of its assets come from its lower-margin solutions business, offering bespoke and tailored partnerships with clients.
But she still faces challenges, beyond the regime change of higher interest rates and higher inflation.
Man has set out its stall on being an active investment group, an approach that faces continuous pressure from cheaper passive investing. It must expand in the US and stay relevant to investors in a world where the hedge fund industry is becoming more and more concentrated. And it must navigate an increasingly complex and politicised environment for ESG investing.
For Grew personally, she must put her own mark on the group after two high-profile chief executives. “Manny and Luke have been at the forefront of the industry,” said Sanyal. “What does Man Group under Robyn look like?”
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