BMO Private Equity Trust

Hamish explains how he became the manager of BMO Private Equity Trust and how the team runs the portfolio today. Approved by BMO Global Asset Management.

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Most of my upbringing was in Crief in Perthshire, which is a small town on the edge of the Highlands. I went to school there. Our school was a combination of a local school, but also an international school. So we had an atmosphere which was very much Scottish in many respects, but had a lot of international influences. I went to university in Aberdeen in the north of Scotland. I studied geography. I did a science degree in geography. My undergraduate thesis was on the recent glaciers of the Pyrenees, specifically doing something called lichenometry which is where you measure the size of the lichens immediately in front of the glacier. And by the diameter of those lichens, you can tell how long it was since the glacier retreated, which is itself a function of climate change.

When I was at university, I was in the climbing club, we went mountaineering and hill walking, sailing, I was also in the officer training corps, which also had quite a strong outdoor slant. I’m really quite an outdoor person. In my final year at university, I had to make a choice as to what I was going to do. I had two or three realistic choices. One was to to join the army. Through the officer training corps I’d developed a strong interest in that. I’d pass the tests at a place at Sandhurst. So that was a real possibility.

I also thought seriously about continuing in geography and going on to doing research in that area. But I was also attracted to the world of investment management and finance and going into the City of London. So I had a chance to do that and I chose that as my career. I felt that that would be a good use of the skills that I picked up at university. I went to join Flemming’s based in the Square Mile. My first job was as a breweries and distilleries analyst, spent the first couple of years travelling around lots of the breweries and distilleries in the UK. But during that period, I learnt my trade as an investment analyst and started doing the investment exams.

I then moved back to Scotland. I joined independent firm called Martin Currie Investment Management. I was there for 15 years and during that time I moved over onto the private equity side of the business and the private equity part of Martin Currie was sold to F&C. And we’ve been with F&C and BMO ever since. The fund is managed by a team which I lead. There are 11 people involved altogether. You need 11 people to cover the breadth of the markets that we are looking at. We’re covering the whole of Europe and further afield. So each of us has certain countries that they specialize in and we do a mixture of fund investments, co investments and secondaries.

And to varying extents, we we divide that up amongst the team. So it’s very much a team effort. Pulling those ideas together and deciding which ones to run with and where to put our effort is my job. But it’s the team are all contributing in different ways towards the success of the fund. It’s important to me to be successful as a fund manager, but it’s probably more important that I’m successful as a husband and father and to actually achieve both these goals, you need to keep a bit of balance. So allowing time for interests and for family in addition to working life, which obviously takes up most of one’s energy is absolutely critical.