Remember Noble Group? At its prime, the Scottish-based investment banking and fund management firm employed 150 people, 50 of whom worked in its office in Edinburgh. But in 2010, Noble Group was sold to Execution Holdings, which went on to sell a majority stake in itself to (of all places) Espirito Santo. Nowadays, ES Noble’s Edinburgh office employs a mere handful of people, and Ben Thompson, the ex-Noble CEO who built the bank up and semi-retired aged just 43, is busy campaigning for his vision of a future Scotland.
“We’ve said very clearly from the start that there should be a form of federalism in Scotland,” Thompson told us. “We call it ‘Devo Plus’ – we’ve campaigned for that third option on the ballot paper.”
Does this mean that he supports Scottish independence or the ‘Better Together’ campaign? Thompson’s elusive: “My vote will go to whichever side supports the federalism we’re advocating,” he says.
Thompson’s been pushing for his vision of a federalist Scotland since he left Noble in 2007. At the time, he told the Scottish Herald that he intended to get up to, “all sorts of mischief.” In fact, he set up ‘Reform Scotland’, a think-tank to help create Scottish prosperity and promote a federalist future.
Thomson also keeps his hand in with investment banking, running Inverleith Capital, through which he offers his advisory services on large cap banking deals and Urbicus, a specialist debt business. A federalist or independent Scotland could benefit from another Noble-style Edinburgh-based investment bank, says Thompson. “It’s very important for the strength of a region to have strong investment banking businesses,” he says. “At the moment, you find a lot of Scottish companies are going for advice in London.”
Thompson says he’s probably not the man to build this new Scottish investment bank, however. “When I joined Noble, there were only six people. Having built Noble up from scratch, I’m not sure I’d do it again. I might leave that to the youth – however I’d support anyone who does want to create a new advisory bank for Scotland.”
Scottish investment bankers who’d like to avail themselves of this historic opportunity might want to get in touch.