`I learnt I could beat the boys'

Profile: Nicola Horlick; She wouldn't go quietly from MGAM but then, as Richard Halstead writes, she wears her ambition on her sleeve

The weighty and comprehensive History of the Deutsche Bank, published last year, does not mention the name of Nicola Horlick in its near-1,000 pages. She can take some comfort, however: Sir John Craven, the head of Morgan Grenfell from 1989 until its takeover in 1991 by Deutsche Bank, and subsequently a main board director of the parent company, gets only two mentions.

If the authors revise their work, however, it is likely that Horlick, until Thursday the head of the UK pension fund management business at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, will get at least a paragraph, perhaps a whole chapter.

As the story unfolded of her dramatic resignation on Thursday night, followed by a high-profile dash on Friday morning first to her old offices at Finsbury Circus in the City, then the UK headquarters of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell a short walk away in the Bishopsgate centre, and finally on to a plane to confront officials at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, it seemed that a whole Ealing Comedy could emerge from the affair.

"My husband tells me I'm the most boring person he knows, but I wouldn't have got where I am by being conventional," she told reporters on Friday.

Indeed, conventional is one epithet Horlick will never have applied to her again. Fund managers and headhunters throughout the City shook their heads in wonder as the latest episode in the Horlick roadshow flashed across their Reuters screens.

"I would be surprised if she landed a job at another fund manager very quickly the way she has carried on," said one headhunter. "It's not a question of her ability, but pension trustees are a conservative bunch. They don't appreciate a boat-rocker."

If the events of the past week prove more than just a hiccup in Horlick's hitherto rapidly ascending career, she at least has the financial security that a pounds 1m annual pay cheque can bring and a partner, Tim, who also earns a six-figure sum, to fall back on. But it will hardly be consolation to someone who has always worn her ambition and ability on her sleeve, and whose current notoriety contrasts sharply with the years spent building a highly successful career out of the media spotlight.

Horlick was born Nicola Gaylord in December 1960 to a well-off Cheshire family and spent her formative years in the Wirral. Her father Michael, a successful businessman, once stood as a Liberal Party candidate; her grand- mother was a Jewish refugee from Poland who fled the Nazis on a motorbike.

Her early schooling was at a traditional old prep school where she was one of just three girls among 300 boys. "I learnt there I could beat the boys at just about anything I set my mind to," she said in an interview in 1995. "I also learnt how silly they could be - they were always sending me drippy love letters."

From there she went to Birkenhead High, a direct-grant school, where her contemporaries included Jane Platt, now a senior manager at HSBC, and Penny Hughes, former head of Coca-Cola UK. Nicola did well enough to get into Oxford, where she studied law and met the cerebral and charming Tim Horlick.

Upon graduation (with a second in law), she went to work for her father's chemical firm as a salesman. But the City soon beckoned, and in 1984 she joined Mercury Asset Management, then a subsidiary of SG Warburg. She also married Tim and soon after gave birth to Georgina, the first of her five children.

At MAM she immediately impressed the legendary fund manager Leonard Licht, coming to his attention by unearthing a document he was seeking from the archives in record time.

Later, working directly for Carol Galley, another Licht protege, Horlick learned the power of being a straight-talking, intelligent woman in the fusty world of fund management - an area of the City (at least until recently) that was relatively free from politics and a place where good operators could advance on merit.

In 1991, one of her subordinates at MAM was poached by Morgan Grenfell, then in the throes of its merger with Deutsche Bank and keen to establish itself as a big player in UK fund management. The poached employee persuaded DMG to hire his boss as well, and Horlick embarked on what would become one of the highest-paying careers in fund management, arguably eclipsing that of her old mentor Galley.

Pulling down bonuses that started in the mid-six figures and recently rose to pounds 1m was a way of keeping score. "I do not work for the money but because I enjoy it. Having said that, I am a competitive person and would always expect to get the going rate," she said recently. She has also enjoyed the company of her burgeoning family, with regular - but often short - maternity leaves to have Alice, Serena, Rupert, and most recently Antonia, who she said was conceived partly to find a bone marrow donor for Georgina, who suffers from leukaemia.

The going rate has brought an unprecedented degree of security. The Horlick family has moved into ever more impressive and expensive residences, and has been able to call on the services of a full-time nanny for the past seven years, along with a posse of temporary help. The latest home, a five-storey residence off Kensington High Street, cost the Horlicks pounds 1.2m when they bought it last summer.

However, they are not staying long. They plan to move into an even larger and more expensive nine-bedroom house in Kensington in April, valued at around pounds 2m. They also have a cottage in the village of Bramdean, near Winchester, where they keep ponies for the children.

Other things have changed in the household. Two years ago, Horlick said: "It is very vulgar to talk about money. We don't flash money around - I drive a Rover, not a Porsche." On her tear around London last week, however, she was behind the wheel of a fire-engine red Alfa Romeo, and money - particularly the pounds 1m she claims she is owed by her former employers - can now be talked about freely.

While anyone with a grudge about Nicola has whispered knowingly in the right media ears in the latest fracas, there are some whose respect endures. One former colleague said: "In this game, only two things count: whether your funds perform well and whether pension fund clients like you. She did the job on both counts."

But the very nature of her high-profile position, and particularly the fact that she is a young and very visible woman in what remains an old and male-dominated world, has drawn at least as many brickbats as roses. One former (male) colleague said: "She needs to be in control and won't listen to anyone telling her she is driving the wrong way up a one-way street."

Now that control, at least in an office environment, is no longer available to Nicola Horlick, her true nature may come to the fore. "This is an individual facing a mighty bank, and I'm not going to let them beat me," she said on Friday.

But as more details emerge of the events leading up to her departure, Horlick may find the whirlwind she has unleashed returning. As one fund manager put it: "She has gone down a road from which she can't return. I wonder if she has thought through what she is doing."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss