What makes a successful AGM? In the case of Brunel Pension Partnership’s first ever annual general meeting, the answer would appear to be professionalism, underpinned by enthusiasm, information and engagement.
On Wednesday 31 January we welcomed shareholders from each of our client funds to the Brunel premises in Bristol for our inaugural AGM. There was a buzz in the office all morning as we readied ourselves for the 3pm kick off.
Seven of our eight executive and non-executive board members took top table with Denise Le Gal, Chair of the board and AGM, and Dawn Turner, CEO, sitting centre stage.
Denise welcomed us, offering apologies for the absence of Non-Executive Director Freddie Pierre-Pierre, due to illness. The remainder of the board – Shareholder Non-Executive Director Steve Tyson, Non-Executive Director Mike Clark, Dawn Turner, Chief Compliance and Risk Officer Laura Chappell, Chief Investment Officer Mark Mansley and Chief Operations Officer Joe Webster were all present.
Denise’s natural warmth shone through as she started by reflecting on how far the company has come in the past ten months, “from almost nothing” to where we are today.
“We’ve been really lucky to be able to attract real talent, many of whom found our culture and values as set out in our business plan appealing,” said Denise, speaking about the growing Brunel team. “Our team enjoys a great working environment, and the offices are conducive to open thinking and creativity.”
Dawn Turner spoke about what’s coming up for Brunel as a company. “2018 is what I call our exciting year,” she said. “We’re a £28bn organisation with only around 30 staff. It’s not unreasonable for people to ask how we’re going to be successful with such a small team.”
The answer, Dawn told us, is “partnership, partnership and partnership.”
Partnership one, she explained, is the Brunel staff, going back to Denise’s comments about the company’s skills in attracting the best people, and the flexible office environment in encouraging the best performances. “External visitors are so surprised by how cohesive this team is already,” said Dawn. “It’s this team that’s at the heart of the success we’re working towards on behalf of yourselves.”
Partnership two, Dawn said, is comprised of the shareholders. “It’s an honour to work with yourselves, both with the client group who are a remarkable group of people with years of experience, and with the Brunel Oversight Board. We really value the constructive challenge and support.”
Partnership three, Dawn reflected, is made up of our external relationships. “How we are observed externally will help us to have people who want to partner with us, from tax experts to auditors to the fund managers who will strive to get the best results.”
The next key point, Dawn told us, is communication, communication, communication, from pension committees to our client group’s quarterly business reports to stakeholders generally. “We’re in the process of procuring a website designer who will give us greater control over this important insight into the company,” Dawn said. “We’re also now tweeting as @BrunelPP, which is already having traction.”
The final trio of Dawn’s presentation was transparency, risk management and recruitment, touching on the importance of collaboration between pension pools to ensure best practice.
“I am absolutely passionate about making Brunel a triumph,” Dawn exclaimed. “I didn’t know quite how passionate until I was waiting to hear whether or not I’d got the job as CEO, convinced myself I hadn’t got it and determined that I would still do everything I could to take the company forward. I burst into tears when Denise told me I’d got the post, and I’m proud to be able to harness that passion to help power Brunel’s success story.”
Denise talked the room through all the major Brunel landmarks since the company went live on 18 July 2017, including appointing administrators State Street, as well as the submission of crucial reports to DCLG, to FCA, and to our shareholders. “We have just gone out to tender on our first portfolio, and we have momentum in spades,” she said. “The company is on track to deliver what you’ve asked us to as shareholders and as clients.”
Steve Tyson, our Shareholder Non-Executive Director (NED), presented an independent view of the company’s progress. “It’s been apparent to me from the outset that Brunel has been well organised in the run up to its launch,” he said. “There’s been collaboration, good governance and good project management. I’m very satisfied with the progress Brunel’s been making so far.”
He also mentioned that while he considers Brunel to still be in the honeymoon period, the business that we’re in is intrinsically difficult.
“We’re long-term investors. During the next two or three years, I feel in my bones, we’ll have a difficult down-market. We’ll have to be quite strong in that period. Asset growth won’t be what it’s been in the past. But overall, my view is that things are going well. I’m optimistic about Brunel delivering the clients’ objectives, and I’m optimistic about the future.”
Joe Webster, Brunel’s Chief Operations Manager presented the annual report and financial statements, commenting: “We have no revenue as yet, but will be providing services from April 2018. We know we have a lot to achieve, and want to be transparent every step of the way.”
Paul Flatley from Grant Thornton provided the independent auditors report, confirming: “The accounts are true and fair.”
Joe offered the motion to reappoint the auditors. Following questions from the floor, checking costs and value for money, the decision to reappoint was unanimous.
Next, Mark Mansley, Brunel’s CIO, provided the investments look forward, admitting the challenges of predicting the financial future. He commented on the unusual situation we’re in, with most markets looking highly valued and supported by low interest rates.
Despite reasonable growth, risks are rising. Longer term, the consequences of technological change and the impacts of climate change create additional challenges. “Innovation and coming up with new ways of investing money in the long term will be needed.”
He confirmed that the investments team is making good progress and is well prepared for challenges ahead.
“Success in 2019 when we enter more complicated fund procurements will enable us to demonstrate fee savings as we become a real credible partner,” Mark commented.
The final ingredient is all about opening the AGM to the shareholders, inviting questions, suggestions and scrutiny.
There were a couple of comments more than questions concerning assurance that Brunel will take a fiduciary duty approach to how we invest. This assurance was provided, clarifying how we will take into account all impact factors of financial risk and opportunities, that we will not be swayed by what’s trending but that we will undertake research, gather evidence and provide clarity on how we complete our due diligence on investments.
We are long-term investors and it will be essential for Brunel to think about and understand the long-term financial risks and opportunities as part of our decision-making.
“We want to build trust with you, and we want you to be proud of us,” Denise said, ending the meeting on a positive and wholeheartedly genuine note.