Q&A with Willie Watt, CEO of Martin Currie January 2015

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Willie Watt's career in finance has spanned three decades, including the past 16 years at the helm of Martin Currie in the firm's Edinburgh head office. A proud Scott, with a lot to be proud about, Watt tells Industry Moves how an unfortunate accident led him to a career in investing, shares the thing outside of investing that he likes to do the most, and names a special person who gave him the confidence to aim high.

You have been the CEO of Martin Currie since 2001, what’s your secret to being a good leader?

I regard myself as a conductor not a musician - I leave the investment to my team of experts each of whom are driven by the pursuit of investment excellence.

From my perspective I am a firm believer in encouraging a working environment of positivity, collaboration, empowerment and accountability, a combination of factors that I believe are key in delivering successful outcomes for our clients.

What drew you to a career in investing?

It was a circuitous route - I was very competitive in school but it was all focused on athletics and rugby. When that was taken away from me (as a result of a serious leg injury at 18) I had to find something to do so I got very competitive about my academic work. I focused on geography and archaeology at Aberdeen University and was awarded a Carnegie scholarship to fund my post graduate studies.

The early 1980s though was not a promising era in academia so when my research funding came to an end I took the job with 3i instead. Having been an avid believer in the power of SME’s, I was attracted to the burgeoning young private equity field.

I was of the mindset that a career in financial services could be hugely rewarding and with the right motivation, training and skills there is almost no limit to what can be achieved and where in the world your career can take you.

Tell us a little about your career so far?

I developed a keen passion for the specialist Private Equity asset class and the exciting investment opportunities this sector created when I began my career working at private equity firm 3i. With a hard working ethos and a keen focus on driving business growth, I rose up through the ranks to become managing director for Scotland and Ireland running investment teams which focused on venture capital, oil and gas and market buyouts. In 1995 I became a member of the UK management group. Following a 16-year successful tenure with the company I made the decision to leave in 2000 as I felt the time was right to seek out new challenges.

The next chapter in my investment career began when I took on the role of chief executive officer at Martin Currie. My vision was to build on the successes Martin Currie had already achieved as a specialist global equity asset manager and to extend the investment offering and develop further investment strategies that would meet the needs of our investors.

Fast forward over 16 years and the journey has been an exciting one. A significant milestone has been our partnership with Legg Mason which represented a major point of change in our company allowing us access to wealth management distribution around the globe. Martin Currie is well positioned to leverage the scaleable benefits of the partnership with Legg Mason which offers global access to over 27 countries worldwide. For Martin Currie, one of those key markets is Australia where our investment teams offer a compelling range of equity investment solutions.

Where did you grow up?

I was raised in Aberdeen from the age of 4 and am proud of my Doric roots. Growing up in the North East of Scotland I developed a passion for the surrounding hills and glens of Aberdeenshire and beyond and like nothing more than exploring the beauty of the Scottish countryside to find remote areas of wilderness I’ve never visited before.

What was your very first job?

During school/uni – delivering newspapers in Aberdeen’s West End. Post school/uni - I joined 3i, the private investment group, in 1984 as a graduate trainee and resigned as UK managing director in 2000.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life/career?

Arthur McCrombie a senior teacher and Deputy Head teacher at Aberdeen Grammar School who helped me to have confidence and aim high.

Do you have a secret skill/hidden talent?

I don’t know about skill or talent but we are working to create a beautiful garden at our house just outside Edinburgh.

Is there a particular charity or cause that you support?

I am a strong supporter of a number of charities including those associated with spinal injury, helping disadvantaged young people meet their potential, and Scottish culture.

Aside from those great causes, another charity raising event that Martin Currie is a proud sponsor of since its launch in 2006 is The Rob Roy Challenge, our flagship charitable event for which I am strongly passionate about. Now in its successful 11th year we are looking to play our part in contributing to the excellent work carried out by each of our charity partners. In June this year the event is offering new and exciting challenges for all levels of walking and cycling enthusiasts. It offers a mixture of fun, challenge and enjoyment together with the opportunity to embrace the beautiful Scottish countryside. It's an ideal challenge for those with a love of the outdoors and a competitive spirit.

View Willie Watt's profile