“The harder I work, the luckier I get”

Friday 22 September 2023

Author: Maha Khan Phillips

Jeremy Taylor, chief executive officer of Lazard Asset Management in London, talks to Maha Khan Phillips about sustaining a business over 175 years, nurturing talent, and how the investment industry is changing.

Growing up in a remote part of North Yorkshire, Jeremy Taylor had clear plans for his future. He knew he wanted to join his family’s haulage business. His grandparents on both sides of the family were farmers, and his father started a haulage business from the farmyard. It was, he says, an entrepreneurial small-town environment.

“I never really imagined doing anything else but taking over from my dad and working with my two brothers in the haulage business.”

Fate had different plans however. Taylor’s father had wanted him to get a good education, and he worked hard at school. “I was lucky to get into Oxford and I studied engineering because I am mathematically wired, I am very numerical and analytical,” he says. The haulage industry was a large part of his destiny, so much so he secured his Class One HGV Licence while studying at Oxford.

During his university finals - when Taylor was weeks from sitting his final exams - the family business sadly closed down. It forced him to rethink his future.

Via the university milk round in 1996, he decided on a career in investment banking, joining what was then Warburg’s, initially in corporate finance, before moving to research to become a telecoms analyst. He was involved in key deals, such as the listing of Swedish national telecoms group Telia in 2000 - the largest IPO in Europe at the time.

“I learnt a lot about telecoms companies and investment banking, but four years is pretty much burn out in the pre-2000 investment banking world. I switched to the sellside working on the trading floor and working on research. That’s really when I discovered investing for the first time,” says Taylor.

It was also where he came across Lazard Asset Management, which became one of his key clients. “They took research seriously and were interested in companies beyond their next earnings release,” he says.

Asset Management

It was Mark Little, a portfolio manager and analyst at Lazard, who told Taylor that he was ‘wasted’ on the sellside, and that he should become an investor. In 2003, Taylor joined Lazard Asset Management as a telecoms analyst. He has been with the firm ever since, transitioning from analyst to Head of Research, and now CEO of the London business.

The firm describes itself as being an investment partner to its clients, and that is a philosophy that Taylor wholeheartedly subscribes to. “Research is important to our business. You can go from junior analyst to managing director and you can also become chief executive of one of our businesses, but it’s about having that analyst mindset. When I got the nod to be chief executive of the London business, I was given the responsibility to run the office, but it was also the case that I was going to stay on as an analyst and use that same mindset to think about how to steer the business.”

That has involved reflecting on how important Lazard Asset Management’s people are, how vital good principles are, and how clients are changing, he says. “You have to be patient and you have to engage with people. It’s important to me to meet clients and make sure they know how I can help, not just when things are going wrong, but when they’re thinking about products or positioning,” he says.

It also involves nurturing talent. When he was head of research, Taylor began a summer internship programme at the firm. That programme grew and was a real learning experience, he says. “I found really talented graduates and bringing them together forced me to teach other people how to invest, which is a really great skill to share with others.”

Changing Landscape

He points out how the landscape is shifting in investment management. “Twenty years ago, your financial wellbeing was looked after by the government or the company you worked for, but that’s no longer the case. As asset managers we have a responsibility to go into schools and explain how compound interest works and make people aware of their financial responsibilities. It’s important that we think about individual choices behind investing.”

It’s why Lazard Asset Management needs to be close to DC schemes, to independent financial advisors (IFAs) and platforms, he highlights. 

Sustaining a Business

This year, Lazard is celebrating its 175th anniversary. So how is its asset management operation going to ensure it is sustainable and relevant for the next 175 years? Taylor says it’s about understanding the business. “We believe in being conservative, in being transparent, having a lot of integrity and really thinking about what we do for our clients,” he says.

It’s also about recognising the importance of relationships. Taylor cites one example, – a time when he sent Michael Bloomberg a book after they’d met for lunch. Bloomberg later called Taylor to thank him for the book. “This guy built the platform that everyone uses every day, but he was willing to spend those few minutes calling me up to thank me. These are small things, but you need to motivate your workforce, make them realise they are valuable, and spend time with them. I have an open-door policy. I sit on the floor with everyone, I talk to clients, and I continue to be an analyst with an interest in the companies that we are investing in.”

For graduates, Taylor has a piece of advice: know what you want to do. “You need to match your talent with the role you get into. That’s important. My own successes have come from the fact that I am very analytical.”

There is a second piece of advice, one which his father gave him. “The harder I work, the luckier I get. That’s something that everyone needs to remember. I often explain that I try to use hard work to make up for my own inefficiencies. I think that’s something which should never be overlooked. Working hard is essential to be successful.”

When he’s not hard at work, Taylor is a classic car aficionado. He bought a Lotus Elan which he passionately rebuilt over eight years. He also spends time with his family, shuttling his two kids to various activities. “Like a lot of people, I am a taxi driver on the weekend,” he says, smiling.  

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