As head of Europe for one of the biggest asset managers and Wall Street’s best-known institutions, Patrick Thomson seems remarkably calm about the rise of EU populism.
Sunday’s European Parliament election results led to a flood of new MEPs whose appeal to voters is rooted partly in their opposition to big business.
JPMorgan, the lofty US lender that has a $1.7tn asset management arm, is the epitome of global capitalism and an ideal target for newly enthroned political reactionaries.
Europe’s asset management industry has long worried that a populist European Parliament will clamp down on powerful investment groups.
Mr Thomson, though, believes sense will prevail. “You may hear some rhetoric but I fundamentally believe that if [the industry] is successful and it is benefiting the 500m citizens of the EU, they’re not going to want their savings imperilled by politicians,” he says. “I think politicians understand that very well. They want a highly competitive, well-regulated market.”
Mr Thomson is not easily ruffled. He combines the confidence of a graduate of Sandhurst, Britain’s leading academy for army officers, with the affability of a career sales executive.
Having been head of European and Middle Eastern operations for JPMorgan Asset Management for 18 months, he has wasted no time in becoming a leading light in the industry. He is a board member of the Investment Association, the UK lobby group, and has joined the asset management task force, a collaboration between the IA and the British government.
JPMAM’s Emea business is often overshadowed by the broader group but it has £430bn under management in Europe. Its 1,232 London staff make it one of the UK investment industry’s biggest employers.
Fund management was not always a vocation for Mr Thomson. He joined the same regiment as his father, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, and the army paid for his Sandhurst training.
After five years in the armed forces, including stints in Zimbabwe and Ireland, he decided that a career in asset management was a better fit for his new family.
“I was 28 and young enough to start at the bottom and learn a new trade,” he says. He took an operations job at JPMAM and began studying asset management.
His move was straightforward but he acknowledges that many former soldiers find it hard to adjust to civvy street. His military experience led him to set up a six-month internship at JPMAM for former servicemen and women.
So far three-quarters of the 170 interns have jobs. He sees this as helping ex-soldiers — but it also improves company diversity.
“What you’re getting is people with a very different background and perspective,” he says. “They have great qualities but not a huge amount of knowledge in terms of financial service technicalities, but you can teach them that.
“What you cannot teach is what they already have: the principles and values innate in a human being.
“It has also helped those who found life difficult after Iraq and Afghanistan, and the reduction in army [manning levels].”
Within a few years of joining JPMAM, Mr Thomson moved to Singapore to lead the sovereign wealth team. In his four years there, global central bank reserves rose from $2tn to $12tn, with much of the growth coming from Asian economies as they increased imports and repaired balance sheets.
“I found it interesting because you’re effectively creating vehicles for future generations, long-term savings vehicles, and the Asian countries were very successful at it,” he says.
On his return to London in 2005, Mr Thomson had “a sort of midlife crisis” and left JPMAM for Ivy Asset Management, a boutique fund of hedge funds manager owned by BNY Mellon. “I thought I’d try to become an entrepreneur. I found out I definitively am not.”
The financial crisis brought a stunning reversal for Ivy, with Andrew Cuomo, now New York governor but then the state’s attorney-general, suing the business, its chief executive and chief investment officer, alleging that they deliberately misled clients into investing with Bernard Madoff, who was convicted of fraud. The suit alleged that Ivy clients lost more than $227m in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and Ivy was paid more than $40m in advisory fees. Ivy settled with US authorities in 2012. Mr Thomson was not implicated in the lawsuit.
“That was a very informative experience but I then came back to JPMorgan,” he says. “Mary [Callahan Erdoes, chief executive of JPMAM] kindly asked me to come back, for which I am eternally grateful.”
On becoming Emea chief executive in 2017, Mr Thomson decided to focus on three areas: culture and conduct, diversity and efficiency.
That third priority has an emphasis on technology as well as trimming unnecessary product lines. This included a global drive to cut nearly a third of funds. “If we didn’t feel there was a case — that we didn’t have a competitive advantage versus hundreds of others — then we exited it,” he says.
When we meet in JPMAM’s London offices, on the north side of the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge, Mr Thomson has just returned from JPMorgan Chase’s annual leadership get-together in Florida, where he spent time with Jamie Dimon, group chief executive, and bosses from other business units.
He says JPMAM benefits from being part of a wider group, sharing knowledge and resources. “You learn from a lot of different businesses,” he says. “For example, the technology that is being adopted in the payments business, which is cutting edge, has an application to us. The cross-fertilisation of ideas can be pretty powerful.”
Fund managers sometimes talk of being the shepherds of clients’ assets but in Mr Thomson’s case the analogy is literal. At 18, before attending university, he spent a year on a New Zealand sheep farm. Now he has a flock of his own at his home in Somerset. It is a therapeutic distraction from fund management. “I’ve always been interested in looking after animals, it’s a sort of hobby,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I’m a professional — I’m still a relative amateur.”
Patrick Thomson CV
Born September 1967, Edinburgh
Salary Not disclosed
1990 The University of Edinburgh, MA (Hons) in French
2000 Qualified as a member of the UK Society of Investment Professionals (now the CFA Society of the UK)
1990-95 The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, British army
1996-2001 Client adviser, JPMorgan Asset Management
2001-05 Global head of sovereigns (based in Singapore)
2005-10 Head of client development for Asia and Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Ivy Asset Management
2010-15 Global head of sovereigns and institutional head of Asia and Central and eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, JPMAM
2015-present Head of international institutional
2017-present CEO Emea
JPMorgan Asset Management
Headquarters New York
Ownership JPMorgan Chase