Stephen Bird resigns as CEO of Abrdn

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Stephen Bird has resigned as chief executive of Abrdn after a four-year tenure that will be remembered for a rebrand that failed to restore the UK asset manager’s fortunes.

Abrdán said Friday that, “after the company’s important strategic repositioning,” the time was right for Bird to step aside.

His departure comes as the board prepares to decide later this year whether to reappoint chairman Sir Douglas Flint for a third term, which Abrdn said was a standard process for companies.

Bird, who joined promising to turn the group around after a successful career at Citigroup, will remain with the company until the end of June to help with the transition.

Chief Financial Officer Jason Windsor, who joined the company in October, has been named interim CEO while the board searches for a permanent successor.

Bird’s departure follows a turbulent period for the firm, the most prominent of a number of UK asset managers that have faced pressure to reduce fees to compete with larger rivals.

Since Bird took the reins, Abrdn has been kicked out of the FTSE 100 twice and the group’s shares have fallen around 30 per cent over the period. He oversaw a much-derided rebranding of the company.

Abrdn said the board and Bird had “agreed together that the time is right” for new leadership.

Windsor joined Abrdn after just over a year as finance director at British housebuilder Persimmon.

Samuel Johar, chairman of the Buchanan Harvey board advisory group, said Windsor had a strong chance of becoming Bird’s permanent successor. “He has substantial experience in financial services and Abrdn cannot afford to sit empty for long,” Johar said, adding that the company could become an acquisition target.

Abrdn shares closed up just over 1.6 per cent at 158.6p in trading on Friday.

Citi analysts said they “expect the departure may be due to differences in strategic vision,” following speculation that Bird suggested to the board that it sell the asset management division, an idea that both Bird and Abrdán have ruled out. The analysts added that “this fact may reduce the probability of a possible split of the group.”

During his tenure, Bird attempted to diversify Abrdn by expanding its wealth management business and selling more investments directly to consumers. In 2021, he purchased Interactive Investor, the UK’s second largest consumer investment site by assets.

He also restructured underperforming parts of the business, including the £7.5bn sale of Abrdn’s private equity arm and its 50 per cent stake in a joint venture with bank Virgin Money.

“You have to break some eggs while you’re making the omelet,” said Charles Harvey of the leadership consulting firm Per Ardua. “Stephen felt comfortable doing this to drive much-needed change; “It will now take time to see how Abrdn is configured to meet the increasingly challenging industrial environment.”

Flint said Bird “joined us as the pandemic took hold and, despite the restrictions it imposed, spearheaded a fundamental reshaping of the company, leading from the front to create a company that can be competitive in a sector in rapid evolution.”

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