Deep in the heart of Mayfair, hidden away between the rows of grand facades that host some of the world's richest hedge fund and private equity managers, Paul Killik, founder of the stockbroker Killik and Co, cuts a traditional figure at his desk. In hedge-fund land, the guys wear chinos and loafers, but Killick stands out in his navy pinstripe and yellow tie.
His central London address is the headquarters of Killik's wealth management business, which gives rich individuals advice on share-buying and other investments. But he hasn't always operated in such grand surroundings. In the 1980s, he was one of the big advocates of wider ownership, setting up the first share stall in Britain in the bowels of Debenhams on Oxford Street.
He had been invited by Hoare Govett, then one of the City's grandest brokers but now part of ABN Amro, to be the broker to retail interests in the sale of British Telecom. Privatised companies are 10 a penny now, but at the time the move was revolutionary. "It seems totally alien now but do remember that, back then, people had never ever seen a prospectus before," says Killik. "We had to guide them through the form filling. The de-institutionalising of money was a fantastic move and changed the face of Britain."
On this foundation, Killik was able to build his share shops in Debenhams."We were situated right next to bedding," he laughs. "We had this bizarre situation of people standing around us looking to get the latest prices because the pricing information was nothing like it is today. It was great because all those people who had been excluded or intimidated in the past were involved in share buying and selling.
"Those were the halcyon days," he adds ruefully. "I'm not sure we'll ever reach those heights again. This government really needs to be careful of its actions or it will force much of the investment industry to retreat offshore. It's a real worry."
The arrival of execution- only, non-advisory players in the market would ultimately lead Killik to sever his relationship with Debenhams, but opportunity knocked again when he spotted a way to make share transactions for the layman much easier.
Dispensing with the laborious transfer deeds of the past, Killik spoke to David Montgomery, then editor of the now-defunct Today newspaper, to promote a "£10 a pop" share- dealing offer.
"We had an absolute field day on the back of that," he says "It allowed us to usurp the execution-only guys. I guess you need a bit of luck and we got it with that."
Killik is coy about offers for his business but concedes he has "had a few" that would make him an even richer man. He declines to give numbers.
A public listing is something that could come much further down the line, but given the travails being endured by listed stockbrokers at the moment, the private arena seems a good place to be.
Killik says the firm is weathering the stock market storm quite well. "The retail investor is keeping his head under the parapet at the moment," he explains. "Commission levels are probably about 20 per cent down on last year. How-ever, flows are holding up. We are a far more diversified business than we were a few years back, with much less reliance on individual shares; 35 per cent of business is made up of fund purchases. It's something we recognised we needed to improve on in the downturn of 2003."
Killik concentrates on the south of England but the plan is to move into pockets of wealth in the North in areas such as Leeds. The firm also intends to build up its operation in Dubai. "We've had a great response from the expat community there," he says. "There are 150,000 Brits in Dubai at the moment."
But perhaps the most successful part of the diversification has been the creation of Killik Employee Services. "A lot of workers have share options in companies these days but typically cash them in arbitrarily, meaning they don't get the best prices. We've built a platform to handle the administration of these schemes, which typically means employees become more patient sellers. It's gone down very well and we have eight FTSE 100 companies on board, including M&S and Reuters."
Killik might look every bit the traditional stockbroker, but his sights are set on the next generation. "The key for us is to cut the average age of our clients," he explains.
"The retired major from Tunbridge Wells will always be welcome but it's more about getting his younger son or daughter who works in the City to come through the door. It's then a virtuous circle of wealth."
Education: Clayesmore School, Dorset
1969: started career at the broker and family firm Killik, Cassel Haley & Co
1974: made partner at Killik, Cassel
1975: Killik, Cassel merged with Quilter Hilton Goodison
1984: Quilter opened the first share shop
1988: Paul Killik Left Quilter after the acquisition of the company by Paribas
1989: started Killik and Co
Hobbies: Travelling, wine and rugby