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Investor Spotlight: Man from Atlanta leads the way

Kathleen Sullivan reports on Charles Brady's Amvescap, the stock market star of 1997
CHARLES Brady entered the investment business in 1964 hoping to drag a little New York money south. These days the Amvescap chairman has managers in so many time zones that he has to wake up at 4 am to talk to them all at once.

With a mix of collegiality and ambition fostered in his hometown of Atlanta, the 62-year-old Brady transformed a small investment unit for a regional bank into the world's 12th big- gest fund manager with more than $160bn (pounds 97bn) in assets. Amvescap was the best-performing stock in London in 1997, more than doubling to 523p from 258.5p.

"It's impossible to talk to the company's fund managers without sensing his presence," said Peter Jeffreys, managing director of Standard & Poor's Fund Research in London. "He's intent on growth and doesn't seem to be tired. He's a tremendously effective figurehead."

Some stiff tests still lie ahead for Brady after Invesco bought Aim Management Group, the Houston-based manager, for $2.2bn last February and merged the two companies into Am-vescap. He faces the challenge of building an international business while preserving the company's legendary esprit de corps.

Brady himself embodies the mix of worldliness and regional flavour that he is seeking to foster at Amvescap. Although he travels every six weeks to London or Tokyo, he does much of his administration from an office in Atlanta, where he is - as he puts it - "that rare thing, a native."

The only child of a General Electric worker, he went to public schools within city limits, earning a degree in industrial management from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1957.

Brady is still young looking for his years - a true Southerner in style, dressing elegantly but unpretentiously. He bears other hallmarks of the region, from the cottony Georgia accent to the talent for knowing a good story and how to tell it - for example, the well-known tale of how he got hired to run Citizens & Southern Bank's investment unit.

A regional institution but hardly parochial, C&S was the first bank to introduce a credit card and one of the first to use computers and automatic tellers. In 1964, president Mills B Lane Jr decided it was time to lure corporate pension money south from the north-east money centres. Tired of being a stockbroker, Brady went to see Lane, who handed him a psychological test. Brady answered 25 questions ("stuff like whether I'd rather be a parrot or a rabbit"), stood in line (Lane saw everyone on a first-come, first-serve basis), and watched while Lane "graded" his test. "Go tell them you're going to run this investment unit," Lane said.

The unit, which became Invesco after its members bought it from the bank in 1978, adopted the bank's tradition of making a virtue of its regional status.

After more than a decade, Invesco finally won over the likes of AT&T and Texaco, excelling among US money managers of the 1980s. Following its success, the company was drawn to become a global manager and in 1986 became part of MIM, the UK fund management company run by David Stevens, better known as the chairman of the Express newspaper group.

The US business, however, quickly took centre stage as assets under management there grew much faster than in the UK.

MIM then faced a series of problems culminating in its involvement in the Maxwell scandal for its management of the Mirror Group pension scheme. Stevens left in 1992, and Brady took over, still ambitious to realise his global vision. Since Stevens quit, Invesco's shares have gone up from 60p to more than 500p.

In the first nine months of 1997, the global division accounted for just 15.3 per cent of revenue and 4.7 per cent of operating profit. That now modest segment is the future, Brady says, and he plans to build the international business much the same way as he built the C&S unit - from the ground up. "The idea is to raise local money and invest it in that country with local managers," Brady said.

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