The Interview: Racing fan whose new brokerage is from a good stable

Andy Stewart; Founder, Cenkos Securities
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The Independent Online

By the time in 2003 Andy Stewart, the "Stewart" in Collins Stewart, left the stockbroker he founded 12 years previously, it had started to interfere with his hobbies.

"It became so big, and when it bought Tullett it had 19 offices in 17 countries," he said. "And then I saw that there was a board meeting scheduled for the day of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That was the last straw."

Mr Stewart is a racing fanatic, and has been since he used to miss school in Essex to go point-to-pointing and hitchhike to Liverpool for the Grand National. A consortium formed in the share-dealing room at Chase Manhattan in 1986 gave him his first taste of ownership and he now has 16 horses and is a member of the colourful horse-owning, share-trading set which includes Trevor Hemmings and the Irish duo, John Magnier and JP McManus.

They are just the start of an enviable network of contacts that he can draw on now he is back in the City. His four-month-old stockbroking business - named after his most successful steeplechaser, Cenkos - is already rattling rivals, including his old firm. He has poached some high-profile staff from Collins Stewart and elsewhere, and already raised funds for two of the biggest flotations on AIM this year.

Mr Stewart retired the horse Cenkos on a high this year, but he has never had any intention of retiring himself, despite leaving Collins Stewart at the end of 2003.

"If you retire, you never get a day off," he says, speaking in his usual fashion, at 19 to the dozen.

The arrival of Cenkos Securities has generated a frisson of excitement for observers of a mid-market broking sector beset by clashing egos and titanic ambition. It will pit Mr Stewart head-to-head with Collins Stewart's chief executive, Terry Smith, for whom the monicker "combative" might have been invented.

Mr Stewart hired and groomed Mr Smith at Collins Stewart, and dismisses any suggestion that the pair fell out as Mr Smith tightened his grip on the business.

"The notion that Terry and I had some sort of falling out is wrong. We had a very pleasant lunch recently, discussing old times and taking a trip down memory lane. We are great personal friends. Now we are in competing businesses in the small and mid-cap market, and I expect him to be robust and we will be robust, and he wouldn't expect it any other way."

Cenkos is Mr Stewart's attempt to recapture the "independent, young, vibrant" vibe of the early Collins Stewart, where a driven and aggressive team looked for creative ways to make money for their clients and for themselves.

"For me this is not about the money, except that if you are in stockbroking, the measure of success is going to be how much money you make."

Mr Stewart owns a third of Cenkos, and will share another third among staff. The last piece is owned by NewSmith Capital Partners, the fund management business set up by some other City stars - the ex-Merrill Lynch bankers, Michael Marks, Stephen Zimmerman and Paul Roy.

Cenkos was never meant to be a start-up. Mr Stewart and NewSmith had spent several months searching for an existing business to buy, but became disillusioned with the quality of the people in many firms.

"Either we couldn't get control or, when we looked at something, we would go in and ask management what so-and-so did and they wouldn't know. They thought they had people with 30 years' experience who I thought probably only had one year's experience 30 times over."

Cloak-and-dagger

So it is down to the cloak-and-dagger business of nicking the best staff from rivals, offering a chance to get rich pretty quick. He insists that he has not targeted Collins Stewart employees specifically, and has made high-profile hires from Hoare Govett, Merrill Lynch and Williams de Broe. "What was good with Collins Stewart - I can't speak for Terry now - but during my time there we only lost one person, and I hope that is going to be the strength of this business, too."

Cenkos will be floated sooner rather than later, although no time frame has been set. What almost certainly will not happen is a sale of the business to a bigger outfit with Mr Stewart knuckling down as part of a large corporate bureaucracy. He did that for two years from 1998, when Collins Stewart's initial financial backers, Singer & Friedlander, bought the bulk of the business they did not already own.

"The one thing that I got totally wrong at Collins Stewart was selling it back to Singer & Friedlander, including founders' rights, the whole lot. I was effectively working for Singer. So Terry and I asked if we could give them their money back. They preferred to sell the whole thing and we bought it back."

That led to one of the quickest turns in stockbroking, a big embarrassment to Singer & Friedlander, since Collins Stewart was floated within months for £249m, twice the price that management had paid for it.

Cenkos is off to a roaring start. Its two biggest flotations to date have been notable as much for their innovation as for their size. It raised £130m for Trading Emissions, a company which will invest in the nascent market for pollution permits. More recently it gathered £150m for Raven Russia, a company set up in Guernsey to invest in Russian warehouses, run by the property tycoon and socialite Anton Bilton.

Cenkos is also the broker behind two shell companies run by Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative Party treasurer, and just this week raised £40m for Helphire, the car hire company. It has already signed up more than 20 corporate clients with a market value of more than £3bn.

All this has been done without Mr Stewart having to compromise too much on the racing, although his house in Barbados might not receive a visit until Christmas.

Not that he simply puts his feet up there. He is always looking for a deal. In the 1990s he set up St James Beach Hotels and floated the company in London and Barbados.

"I have been going there for 30 years, and I love the island. I'm a cricket nut you see, and it is nice now that we occasionally beat the West Indies. But I used to get bored just walking up and down the beach."

With a promise that Cenkos will take on Mr Smith's Collins Stewart and all comers at home, Mr Stewart is unlikely to be bored - or boring - for a very long while.

Form Guide

Age: 53

Career: Founded Cenkos Securities in April. Began work aged 17 in the fixed-interest department of Simon & Coates, eventually becoming a senior partner at the stockbroking firm. Became chief executive of Chase Manhattan Securities when it took over Simon & Coates. Founded Collins Stewart in 1991, and was executive deputy chairman when it floated in 2000. Quit in 2003.

Personal: Married with two sons in their 20s. Passions include horse racing, cricket - and work.

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