Introducing Woodford Views

17 April 2024
Neil Woodford

My name is Neil Woodford. I am 64 years old, and I live in southwest England. I have worked in the investment industry since the early 1980s. You may remember me as the fund manager who avoided the dot-com bubble and the banking crisis and delivered index-beating performance for over 25 years, or perhaps as the "disgraced" fund manager who presided over Woodford Investment Management's collapse in 2019. Others may not have heard of me at all. Whatever your perspective, you may be curious about what I have to say about a wide range of economic, social, and political issues that impact our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, much of the commentary I read about the UK economy is long on opinion but critically short on data. It is often factually wrong, perhaps because established narratives are too willingly accepted. What is clearly severely lacking is data-supported information and analysis. 

The economic analysis and commentary in Woodford Views will focus on relevant facts and data without censorship from editors, pressure to toe a particular line or consensus thinking. With over 35 years of finance industry experience, primarily as an investor, I’ve witnessed economic and corporate success and failure. I will use this experience to shed light on issues relevant to today’s investors and to help you navigate the complexities of financial markets.

During my career, I have invested in many businesses, large and small, public and private and across every industrial sector. I have witnessed up close great success and crushing disappointment. I have met outstanding owners and managers, and from time to time, the unscrupulous and incompetent. My own journey has had highs and lows. The financial media have variously described me as “the man who made Middle England rich” or “Britain’s answer to Warren Buffett”. In contrast, the failure of Woodford Investment Management in 2019 fed an altogether different narrative, transforming me from a hero to a villain in the eyes of many. 

These experiences and others have equipped me to better understand the key ingredients for success in the corporate world. Ultimately, it is this knowledge and experience I want to share with you in the form of insights on the economy, what’s really going on and what good looks like in the corporate world, both in early-stage and mature businesses. I hope you will find it interesting and thought-provoking.

With respect to my story, the truth is that I am neither hero nor villain. I was never the financial saviour of Middle England, but then, neither do I think I was worthy of the onslaught that followed the failure of my business. There is much more to be revealed about the story, and I will shed some light on the events that led to the losses that investors suffered when the fund was wound up. However, regardless of who was responsible for what, the fact is investors were trapped in my fund and suffered permanent losses, and this will always weigh heavily on me.

By way of background, I thought I should tell those of you who have read this far a little bit more about who I am and how I got here.

Born in 1960 and educated at my local school in Maidenhead under an inspirational headmaster, I pursued economics at Exeter University, graduating in 1981. More by luck than judgement, I found my way into what was effectively an apprenticeship in the investment industry, learning my trade as an analyst. By 1988, I was managing funds at Perpetual – which later became Invesco – a role I held for 26 years until I left to co-found Woodford Investment Management. Just before leaving Invesco, I oversaw over £32bn in assets.

After three very successful years at Woodford, I went through a difficult period of investment performance. I had experienced this before in my career, but this time, my underperformance led to events that I was not able to control, ultimately resulting in the closure of the business at the end of 2019.

Reflecting on my career, up to the creation and challenges of Woodford Investment Management, I have had the opportunity to revisit the key decisions I took that frequently placed me at the centre of controversy in the fund management industry. Many of them were heavily criticised at the time, including during the dot-com bubble and in the years before the banking crisis, when I adopted non-consensus portfolio positions. Ultimately, though, these big decisions were the right ones and were the basis for the funds’ significant long-term outperformance.

My underlying investment approach, which has always been valuation-focused and grounded in fundamental economic and corporate analysis, has not been without its critics, and yet it has been vindicated repeatedly. These were the investment principles that guided the fund strategy at Woodford, and, although recent commentary says otherwise, they were entirely consistent with those I had followed at Invesco. And yet, the outcomes were very different.

I have spent the last five years reflecting on the reasons why. The things beyond our control at Woodford, such as the economic and political landscape, were, of course, very different in the wake of the Brexit vote, as were the investment environment and other externalities. What my colleagues and I could control at Woodford was also quite different.

Nevertheless, the outcomes diverged dramatically, and what followed has given me the opportunity to think long and hard, both professionally and personally. As much as I would not choose to relive that extremely challenging time, I learned much from it and believe that going through it has given me important and valuable insights, which will help inform my analysis and commentary.

So, whether you are interested in finance or just curious about economic events that affect all of our lives, I hope you will find Woodford Views relevant and useful and that it will help you understand today’s economy and investment landscape.

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