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Business News

Ex rugby ace trades place with Tory hedge fund millionaire

One of the City's most colourful bankers, Alex Snow, is to become chief executive of Lansdowne Partners, the hedge fund manager which made a killing selling shares in British banks during the financial crisis.

Mr Snow, 44, is replacing Sir Paul Ruddock, who has been a major backer of the Conservative Party and is standing down to spend more time on his philanthropic works.

Lansdowne Partners has been one of London's most successful hedge funds. It was set up by Sir Paul and Steven Heinz in 1998, and currently manages $13.4bn (£8.8bn), largely on behalf of big institutional investors. The two founders contributed some £300,000 to the Tory party during the early 2000s.

The firm was reported to have made around £100m betting against Northern Rock's share price shortly before the former building society collapsed in 2007 and had to be nationalised. In 2009 the hedge fund again short-sold Barclays shares, making a profit of £12m in just four trading days.

But Mayfair-based Lansdowne has also made huge profits by betting on companies rather than against them. And unlike many hedge funds it prefers to take long-term bets rather than trading in and out of shares on a daily basis.

Three years ago it became the second largest shareholder in Lloyds Banking Group after the Government. For a time that looked a bad bet as Lloyds shares more than halved in value. But in recent months as the share price has moved ahead of the price paid by the taxpayer Lansdowne's gamble has paid off.

Other high-profile companies in which it is a major shareholder include Nike, Ryanair and Manchester United.

Lansdowne's main fund, the Developed Market fund, which accounts for $10bn of the assets under management, produced an 18 per cent return for investors last year and is 16 per cent ahead so far this year.

Mr Snow, a former Harlequins and England rugby player, sold Evolution, the investment bank he created in 2001, to the Anglo-South African finance giant Investec for £230m after a two-way bid battle with Canaccord two years ago. The often outspoken banker made some £5m personally from the deal. He quit Investec earlier this month.

He said: "I am delighted to be joining Lansdowne, and am excited by the prospect of working with such talented professionals across the organisation. Lansdowne has an enviable heritage, and I look forward to helping it develop its position as one of the leading investment firms in Europe."

He will join the firm in September and become a partner. Lansdowne employs 87 in its London office.

Sir Paul, who is reckoned to be worth £300m, steps down at the end of this month. He is chairman of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and he and his wife Jill have funded renovations of major galleries there and at the British Museum. He is heavily involved in charitable work in Africa and also supports the Donmar Warehouse.

He donated £259,500 in cash and £6,095 through sponsorship to the Tories between 2003 and 2009, according to Electoral Commission records.

Mr Snow is understood to have no political affiliations and has not given to any party.

Lansdowne's Mr Heinz said: "Alex has been known to members of the management committee for many years, and has the combination of management experience, energy and drive which we believe is necessary to lead Lansdowne going forward."