Richard Woolnough has become an overnight sensation. Sky News revealed that Woolnough, who has spent most of his career working as a long-only fund manager at funds owned by insurance companies, was paid £17.5m ($29m) last year. That’s more than Lloyd Blankfein ($23m), Jamie Dimon ($20m), or Charles Gorman ($18m).
Woolnough disproves the notion that long only fund managers don’t pay as well as investment banks. He is not on the board of his employer (The Prudential) and also disproves the notion that as you progress, you get paid for managing people rather than excelling at what you do.
Woolnough is not a hard-playing hustler. He is a bespectacled 50-something fund manager at the pinnacle of his industry. And he has wisdom to share with anyone who wants to be like him.
1. Don’t skip from job to job. Learn your trade. Move for a good reason
While there are plenty of people in banking who stay with one employer for their entire career, there are also plenty who change jobs on a three yearly basis.
Woolnough has worked in financial services since 1987. He’s spent 10 years at M&G and prior to that he spent 10 years at Old Mutual. Woolnough says he moved to M&G specifically to, ‘learn more, improve my skills and also to look into high yield more.’ He did not move for more money, for a promotion, or for a bigger brand name.
2. Don’t take risks, unless you’re paid well to do so
“In order to get danger I need to be paid a substantial amount to consider it,” Woolnough told the Telegraph a few years ago. “If you offer me a tiny quantity of money to take a chance I will pass the chance.”
Being a fixed income fund manager is more about finding losers than looking for winners, said Woolnough in a separate interview. Elsewhere, he said poetically that being a bond manager is like, “walking along a pavement staying away from the cracks (although) equity managers lie in the gutter searching at the stars”.
3. Don’t specialize too soon
Woolnough spent his early career managing equities and only switched into bonds when he was eight years in. He says this broad-based experience makes him a better fund manager. He’s now able to manage both classes of investment and his equities knowledge informs his choice of bonds to buy.
3. Enjoy it
Working as a fixed income fund manager is, “somewhere between an intellectual challenge and a game,” says Woolnough. It’s also about staying ahead of the pack. During the financial crisis, Woolnough stayed away from stocks like Northern Rock even as others bought into them. “It was a question of being two steps ahead of everyone else – once we got in front, we stayed that way,” he says.