It was the early days of 2017 and leaders of two of Scotland’s largest financial services companies met up to discuss joining forces.
Just two months later Martin Gilbert, ceo of Aberdeen Asset Management and Keith Skeoch, his counterpart at Standard Life, unveiled details of the largest merger between two Scottish companies in history.
Times had been tough, although Mr Gilbert robustly denies that he was under any pressure to staunch outflows by joining forces with a larger stablemate.
He said Mitsubishi, Aberdeen’s largest shareholder, told him it only wanted him to do the deal if he wanted to.
But what was the case as investors drew their money out of Aberdeen’s emerging market funds was it went on the radar as a takeover target. Mr Gilbert admitted to being wooed often and Standard Life was the best possible choice of suitor. And, perhaps more importantly, the deal ensures that any new combination left more than just a branch office north of the border.
There has been much comment about the plan for both Mr Gilbert and Skeoch to share the chief executive role. But yesterday both men insisted that they had more than enough to do between them to bed the merger in. Let’s not forget, too, that if this process takes up to three years, Mr Gilbert will be aged 64 and Mr Skeoch, 63 by the end of it. Both might be ready to hand over the reins to someone else.
It takes more than a shared love of asset management, sport sponsorship and fly fishing for two such figures to forge a new business. But what does help is they have known each other for 30 years. Edinburgh is a small town that way.
The tie up might be even create an entity that was already even more culturally aligned than when Aberdeen swooped on the Lloyds Banking Group-owned Scottish Widows Investment partnership (Swip) in 2013.
Both Mr Skeoch and Mr Gilbert aim to forge an asset management “powerhouse” – which will incorporate both names. Mr Gilbert said the new brand will be “huge” – and will read in Asia where Aberdeen has a stronghold and in India where Standard Life is well known.
Mr Skeoch said the tie up was about becoming a global winner.
“You are constantly scanning the horizon and thinking what can you do for your clients, your people and shareholders,” he said.
“We have just come a decade after the financial crisis where you are either a winner and you are getting bigger … or you are small boutique offering something small.
“We were both medium-sized asset managers.
“What we are doing is we recognise the mutual strengths and complimentarities that will create an asset management powerhouse.”