There are few events that truly change the world, which force it onto a completely different trajectory. JP Morgan’s Georgina Brittain does not include the pandemic among them. In fact, during her 28-year career, all of which has been spent at JPM, she has experienced only one – 9/11.
Brittain was in London, at a meeting, when the planes hit the Twin Towers. She and her colleague, who had three decades’ experience at the time, walked back to their office. “We spent those 25 minutes asking what has changed and how.” She describes it as the only time “ever” when the industry has been more concerned about the state of the world than what was going on with their funds.
When it came to Covid-19, talk quickly turned to what the lay of the land was going to be once it was over. “Obviously we didn’t think it would last as long as it did.” But a return to some semblance of what had come before was expected.
“Very occasionally, the world tilts on its axis,” she adds. “You’ve got to figure out which events are world changing and which are not.”
Gut instincts and hard questions
As we talk, Brittain is marking a quarter of a century running the JPMorgan UK Smaller Companies Investment Trust. That longevity has given her confidence in her gut. “It is connected to a whole lot of other instincts and 25 years’ knowledge that has been built up.”
That gut instinct is a warning signal, whether it’s about an IPO, a specific company or something that just doesn’t ring true. “Even if you cannot pinpoint or explain why, it doesn’t mean it isn’t right.”
That instinct also pushes Brittain to not shy away from asking tough questions. When meeting with companies, “I am there to get answers”, she says. “I don’t mind what they think of me. If I ask a question and don’t get an answer, I will ask the question again. And then a second time and a third or fourth if necessary.
“That meeting is for my benefit, so that I get what I want out of it. There is no pride involved, I want answers. I’d much rather look stupid for asking the question than for losing money on that investment.”
Level playing field
That ability to cross examine is likely a holdover from Brittain’s legal background, having qualified as a barrister before venturing into fund management. After concluding a life in law wasn’t what she wanted, Brittain met with people from all different backgrounds to discover the array of careers on offer.
Those meetings resulted in letters being sent to the top four UK management houses at the time. Three interviews followed and an offer of a position at Fleming, acquired by JP Morgan in 2001.
Those breakfasts, coffees, lunches, dinners and drinks have made Brittain generous with her time if asked for advice about joining the industry, especially when it comes to women and girls.
“You often see barriers in certain areas of certain jobs,” she says. “In fund management, the only thing that matters is you and your track record. No one cares about your ethnicity, gender or if you come from Mars. It doesn’t matter. Only your numbers do – it’s such a level playing field.”
Brittain adds: “It’s a fantastic career. The purpose of this job is to help people have a happy retirement, buy their kids a car or help them with their first house. You obviously take the job very seriously, because you’re being entrusted with people’s savings, but I get to meet CEOs and the top decision makers of companies.
“I try to get across the buzz, the serious excitement of this career, the power and the competition. You cannot do this job if you are not competitive.”
Georgina Brittain, managing director, is a senior portfolio manager within the JP Morgan Asset Management International Equity Group, based in London. She joined the firm in 1995. Brittain earned a Diploma in Law from City University, London, and is a qualified barrister.
This article first appeared in the March edition of Portfolio Adviser Magazine