Comeback King in bid battle: Martin Gilbert launches his latest swoop

Comeback fund king in bid battle: it’s been down but never out and now Martin Gilbert has launched his latest swoop


City Titan Martin Gilbert has been caught up in a takeover battle as he attempts to seize control of fund manager River and Mercantile.

The 66-year-old founder of Aberdeen Asset Management has made an offer for R&M through his investment vehicle AssetCo.

However, he faces competition from fund manager Premier Miton, who has made a competitive bid for R&M.

Aberdeen Asset Management founder Martin Gilbert (pictured) has made an offer for R&M through his investment vehicle AssetCo

It’s the latest twist in the eventful career of the man dubbed the City’s Comeback King.

Gilbert, a married father of three, is a bon vivant known for his wine and dinner at the global talk fest Davos and at shindigs he hosted at the Highland Games in Braemar.

But his social appearance coexists with unstoppable ambition and a Houdini-esque ability to escape seemingly devastating debacles.

An R&M takeover would mean a full-blown return to the Square Mile, just two years after leaving his job as boss of financial giant Standard Life Aberdeen.

Gilbert says he jumped before being pushed after he lost in a power struggle with a rival executive.

He is chairman of the fintech firm Revolut and the hedge fund Toscafund, and is also a senior non-executive director at commodities giant Glencore.

A golf enthusiast who has played with former US President Donald Trump, he is chairman of Scottish Golf, the sport’s national governing body.

He is also deputy chairman of R&M, but has withdrawn from the board for discussions on the potential offer. R&M shares rose 8.8 percent, or 25p, to 310p, bringing in a value of £265 million.

Gilbert’s AssetCo – which specializes in buying and operating asset management companies – already owns a 5.85 percent stake in R&M, while Premier Miton owns 5 percent. His bid to take full control comes nearly four decades after he founded Aberdeen Asset Management in 1983.

He built the company into an FTSE 100 giant with more than £300 billion in savings before merging it with Edinburgh-based savings giant Standard Life in 2017.

Wealth managers, who actively manage funds, have grown significantly in recent years to cut costs and fight competition from rivals that manage passive or index-tracking funds

Wealth managers, who actively manage funds, have grown significantly in recent years to cut costs and fight competition from rivals that manage passive or index-tracking funds

Gilbert was co-chairman of the combined company – now called abrdn – until he stepped down in 2019, saying he wanted to spare the chairman the embarrassment of firing him.

That wasn’t the first setback for Gilbert, who admits he was lucky to survive the split-capital scandal in the early 2000s investment trust, which wiped out the savings of thousands of retail investors.

He and his colleagues were labeled ‘sophisticated snake oil salesmen’ by MPs and Aberdeen found themselves on the brink of administration.

After leaving Standard Life Aberdeen, he took control of publicly traded cash shell AssetCo, which started out as a fire truck leasing company.

Gilbert owns an 8.55 percent personal stake and has already landed three acquisitions – including Edinburgh-based investment house Saracen Fund Managers – and raised £25m from investors.

Asset managers, who actively fund funds, have gained momentum in recent years to cut costs and fight competition from rivals that manage lower-cost passive or index-tracking funds.

Any acquisition of R&M is conditional on the completion of the sale of its £230 million pension business to Schroders. That would lead to assets of more than £5 billion.

AssetCo said its and R&M’s businesses were “highly complementary” and that a merger would “create significant value for the combined group’s customers, portfolio managers, employees and shareholders.”

The other bidder, Prime Minister Miton, said he has “assessed the merits of a combination with R&M over a period of time” and that a deal would benefit shareholders of both companies.

Both suitors added that “there can be no assurance” that a firm offer for R&M will be made.

Under UK takeover rules, Prime Minister Miton and AssetCo must now submit or walk away firm offers for R&M by December 21.

Premier Miton shares fell 3.7 percent, or 7p, to 180p. Meanwhile, AssetCo shares were flat.

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