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Investment News

People: Catherine Savage

Ann Cunninghame mets a woman who shakes up the stereotype of the conservative fund manager.

Monday, February 26th 2001, 11:06PM

by Paul McBeth

She has a personal shareholding in an organic cafe, she says she's not interested in climbing the corporate ladder and to call her vibrant would be a serious understatement.

AMP Henderson Global Investors' newly appointed New Zealand head, Catherine Savage, certainly shakes up the stereotype of the conservative funds manager. At 33, she's the youngest MD as well as the first woman country manager globally. She's been working for the company for six years already and attributes her appointment to the top job to support from three previous bosses including former head Murray Gribben (who was appointed director of Investment Services for the group in London).

"I was really surprised to be appointed, but I suppose I'm quite multi-skilled. And I don't like to think AMP Henderson is just about me. There are lots of really talented people here."

Savage, a qualified accountant, worked for an accounting firm and then as treasury manager for Natural Gas Corporation before joining what was then AMP Asset Management in 1995. Initially portfolio manager for fixed interest and cash, she moved to client servicing after a few years and was appointed head of that section in 2000.

Along the way, she gave birth to her much-adored son Matthew, now five years old and an enthusiastic attendee at Karori Normal School in Wellington. Meanwhile, her husband's been the one to stay home and be chief caregiver. A professional sportsman for years (and New Zealand's top badminton player), he then obtained university qualifications in psychology and marketing and now works part-time from home.

Savage admits it's probably harder on him - not many men are based at home in Karori, she says! But given her long hours on the job and constant travel, it's certainly been fortunate for her own career.

As head of client servicing, that travel was mostly domestic, but now her passport is getting more of a workout. "We're now a global business - and we have been for a year and a half," Savage says.

"What Hendersons have said is that we're a global business, but each of our businesses has a local focus. We're committed to local clients, not only through marketing but also with the investment operation.

"In New Zealand, we're already in a very good position as we've already got a viable business, with 25 per cent of the wholesale market."

Savage notes that the company (AMPAM) was formed as a separate entity in 1991 and says it really came into its own around 1997/98 with the launch of the WINZ fund and the acquisition of Southpac. "That and the fact that we started winning a lot of fixed interest mandates really grew the company enormously and now it's a global business."

One of the aims for this year is to win a chunk of the Government mandates coming up (Savage cites Earthquake and ACC) as well as the Government super fund.

"A key objective for us here too, which we've had for the last three years, is to diversify our client base. We have a couple of dozen or so very large clients and a large portion of the market. But there's competitively a limitation on how many more channels we can go into.

"That means we're aiming to do more partnership work with our existing clients. For example, with ASB Bank, we initially tendered for their mandate and are their passive manager. But we've now done a lot of work assisting them with investment knowledge for their investment advisers.

"We're also trying to work a lot more closely within existing distribution channels and develop the ones on the board. A lot of that drive has been on our ebusiness: we've spent a lot of time on that in the last two years. For example, AMP launched InvestorNet for the AMP advisers last year, an internet-based system which advisers can log on to and buy investments.

Savage says a lot of the ebusiness work is to gain efficiencies throughout the group, while the local team has actually developed most of the global intranet just launched last month. "New Zealand is seen very much like an R&D, innovative part of the business. We can test things out here as we have an established business."

"We also want to try and leverage off the global company where we can - they've got all these amazing products in the wider group.

"The AMP brand is very important. However, it's also important for us to be seen as part of a global manager. AMP is our biggest client, but at the end of the day 55 per cent of our money (some $5 billion) is external to AMP."

In her private life, Savage moves away from the mainstream with her investments which include an interest in the Little Flower Trust, which trains counsellors and helps people with addictions (her brother an addictions counsellor). She's also a quarter shareholder in organic cafe Real Earth along with the chefs from Vinnies Restaurant in Auckland and a few others.

"This will sound oddball for someone who's head of funds management!" says Savage.

"It's a normal trendy cafe - it's not vegetarian, there are no lentil burgers! - but all the food is certified organic down to the coffee beans and the butter."

The big picture is to promote organic farming and to franchise the concept globally. The first cafe opened in downtown Wellington in November, another is opening soon in the city and a couple are already planned for Australia.

It may be today Wellington, tomorrow the world... but Savage says that she personally is planning to stay in the country.

"I actually think at this stage I'd really like to stay in New Zealand. I'd like to work in the business and contribute and then, potentially, become a board member of New Zealand companies.

"I love the investment industry and I do think I can help. It's all about the enjoyment of what I do - and I like to do things well. That's what I focus on."

Paul is a staff writer for Good Returns based in Wellington.

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