Interview: Jen Paice, Cornerstone Asset Management
A change at the top of an organisation generally heralds changes in the way of doing things, though altering the milk order may not be high on many lists of expectations.
In her first year in charge at Cornerstone Asset Management Jen Paice has been busy working on a new fund that will position the business firmly in the ethical environment. It will give clients an opportunity to invest in companies tackling anything from global warming to plastic waste. That’s where the milk order comes in.
“I attended the TedX talks in Glasgow and this girl filled the stage with plastic bottles that were a year’s consumption of milk by a family of four,” she explains.
“She challenged everyone in the audience to do something. I came back to the office and said this is what we are doing. We have ordered our milk to be delivered in glass bottles.”
Paice was not alone. When she called the dairy she was told there had been a number of orders placed that day by others who had attended the event.
“The conversation is becoming bigger and bigger. It is about doing things in a different way with the same outcome,” she says, adding that her own children, like other young people, are demanding a change in how we tackle pollution, waste, poor health and inequality.
She acknowledges that client demand for good returns remains the defining factor in designing an investment portfolio and that the new fund will be required to fulfil those requirements like any other.
“We are not just putting them into an ethical fund because we want to save the planet,” she says. “It has to fit with a client’s investment objectives.”
Paice points to evidence supporting her initiative. Some ethical funds are now making healthy returns and have moved on from being about exclusion – refusing to invest in certain companies and industries – to looking more closely at how some of these firms are developing sustainable practices.
Crucially, she believes that by launching an ethical fund Cornerstone has to be seen to be practising what it preaches.
“Some clients demand that we go to them so we still have to do car journeys, but we will look at how we can be carbon neutral, planting trees and such like.”
The new Responsible Futures fund will be launched in September as Paice sets about the next phase of the company’s growth from her 10th floor offices in Exchange Tower, Edinburgh. A new three-year strategy will dictate what the business will look in 2022. She wants greater staff engagement and has just promoted three chartered financial planners to equity partners following two other key appointments that will help develop the proposition.
She took the top job last August after a career in financial services that included three years working for Scottish Development International in New York, though she admits that when she applied for the post she had no idea she was heading to Manhattan.
“I was working in Oxford and saw a job with SDI that I thought would mean going back to Glasgow. At the interview they asked why I wanted to work in New York. I just said ‘Excuse me?’ I really had no idea as the advert didn’t say where the job was based.”
It led to a happy spell working as part of a team encouraging US businesses to invest in Scotland, among them JP Morgan which now has a significant presence in the city.
“I miss the friends I made there but I also miss the challenge of helping Scotland by bringing high value jobs here,” she says.
As her visa neared expiry she decided to come home and was posted on secondment to RBS’s asset finance division, eventually landing a permanent job. Senior positions with Safe Deposits and HRC Recruitment preceded her move to Cornerstone.
She believes the business, founded eight years ago, is on the cusp of better things, not least after picking up some recent awards and securing Pension Transfer Gold Standard status.
“This is a very successful business doing extremely well but there was a desire to focus on growth which had been done organically, and how we moved to the next level. The thinking behind bringing in a managing director was that it would focus the various teams on being client-centric and how they could do things differently and be more innovative.”
That includes digitising the workload while recognising that some clients, particularly older clients, do are either uncomfortable with, or unwilling to make the change.
“We cannot leave them behind. We have to be mindful that being seen as ‘modern’ does not tick everyone’s box.”
Occupation: Managing director, Cornerstone Asset Management
Education: Glasgow Caledonian University (physiotherapy)
Career Highlights: A software company in Oxford; Scottish Development International (New York); RBS Lombard Finance; Safe Deposits (CEO); HRC Recruitment (MD); Cornerstone Asset Managemet (MD)
Any claim to fame?
I met no celebrities during my time in New York though I did meet Jamie Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase) at his office in Park Avenue. He was certainly famous.
You were there just as the financial crash took hold. How did New Yorkers react?
There did not seem to be the same sense of inward criticism or failure. Maybe it’s because the US is such a big place.
What have you learned about what makes a good manager?
You need consistency, direction. You must be authentic in and out of work. Your people must know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Do you have a business motto?
“Done is better than perfect”. In other words, it is better to complete a task than spend a lot of time trying to perfect it.
If you could invite three people to a meeting or dinner party, who might you choose?
The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), actor and semi-retired professional wrestler.. I would like to know how authentic he is
Meghan Markle (Duchess of Sussex)… because I loved her programme Suits and I wonder how she copes with criticism
Pink (singer)... to find out where she gets her energy and because she seems like a fun person