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Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 09:09 GMT
The human face of Nicola Horlick
Nicola Horlick, chief executive of SG Asset Management
Superwoman or mere mortal?

In the last report on women in business, BBC News Online meets Nicola Horlick, boss of SG Asset Management, mother of five and a so-called "superwoman".
Nicola Horlick spends several minutes of our interview denying allegations that she is a superhero.

"It's ridiculous that I am known as 'superwoman'," she says.

"Look at someone who has no help at home and holds down a job. Or look at me with my nanny and my secretary. Who would you call 'superwoman'?"

I was so used to success in my career, I had never had any setbacks before

Nicola Horlick
Her eyes are flashing, but her manner is measured and persuasive. "The first one," she adds, in case I have missed the point.

Superhero comparisons aside, she still has a remarkable ability to reinvent herself and capture the imagination of the British press.

Her sex, her flock of children and a high-profile spat with a previous employer have earned her a place in the financial hall of fame.

Career setback

Horlick first made a name for herself in the early 1990s by turning around Morgan Grenfell Investment Management, a blue-blooded institution that had fallen on hard times.

But it wasn't until 1997 that she hit the headlines after an irrevocable falling-out with Morgan Grenfell's senior management.

Nicola Horlick with her passport
Horlick flew to Frankfurt without her coat in the middle of winter
"It was terribly shocking," she says. "I was so used to success in my career. I had never had any setbacks before."

As Ms Horlick saw it, "a person who didn't like me" informed Morgan Grenfell that she planned to defect with a team of fund managers.

She denied the report but ended up with the press camped out on her doorstep for five days.

On impulse, she later flew to Frankfurt - trailing 40 journalists in her wake - to persuade Morgan Grenfell's German paymasters at Deutsche Bank to back her case.

In retrospect, the trip seemed more of a theatrical stunt (Ms Horlick auditioned for Rada as a teenager) than a genuine mission to get her job back.

Can you have it all?

A year after the Morgan Grenfell debacle, Ms Horlick's daughter, Georgie, lost her battle against leukaemia.

NICOLA HORLICK'S CV
Born 1960
Educated at Oxford University
Works for her father in 1982
Joins SG Warburg as graduate trainee in 1983
Becomes part of Mercury Asset Management (spun off from SG) in 1984
Joins Morgan Grenfell in 1991
Starts up SGAM in 1997
"I have come to terms with it, but I won't get over it," she says of her bereavement. "I am not crying all the time now, but I still have a desperate sense of loss."

If nothing else, the experience sharpened her perspective.

"I have always been laid back, but I think I'm more so now. The little things don't seem so important any more."

After leaving Morgan Grenfell, Ms Horlick took six weeks out to write a book, Can You Have It All?

"It was quite therapeutic and became a useful record," Ms Horlick says, hinting both at Georgie's struggle for survival and the Morgan Grenfell row.

'Wrong-footed'

The book, however, does not cover her latest incarnation as chief executive of SG Asset Management (SGAM).

In 1997 Ms Horlick and the man who had lured her to Morgan Grenfell in the early 1990s, Keith Percy, joined forces.

The promise of an equity stake and a clean slate attracted them to SGAM, but a bear market has since tested their mettle.

SGAM PERFORMANCE
Pooled UK equity (127m): 13.9% fall over three years
(benchmark: 10.6% fall)
Managed fund of mixed assets (300m): 10.1% fall over three years
(benchmark: 7.9% fall)
Total funds under management: 7.5bn

Source: Caps & SGAM
For example, SGAM's pooled UK equity fund has declined by 13.9% during the three years to September, against a benchmark of minus 10.6%, according to statistics from Caps.

Ms Horlick recognises she was "wrong-footed" by the stock markets last year. "We were too optimistic too early."

Industry insiders observe that SGAM is experiencing growing pains as it breaks in its new management team.

"It will require all the experience of Nicola and Keith to keep the young team delivering in the long term," says one expert.

Not a level playing field

Although Ms Horlick belittles the media's fixation with successful women in the City, she admits the attention "hasn't been unhelpful from a business point of view".

This implacable pragmatism seems to be a powerful force in her personality.

People at work have to understand that you might need to go see your children in a carol concert

Nicola Horlick
As a student director, she fired an actress who could not "perform with real passion" just before the opening night of her production, The Crucible.

"I can be ruthless for the good of the overall organisation," she says.

Her responsibilities as a parent and a professional are weighed up with similar perspicacity.

"You have to be honest with your employer and you have to tell them your priorities. People at work have to understand that you might need to go see your children in a carol concert."

But as to whether you can have it all - the answer is "no". She also says that women with children are no longer on level playing field.

No doubt her judgement has been marred by the loss of Georgie. Nevertheless, she thrives on living her life to the extreme.

She may not be superwoman, but there are not many of us who could fit in six children, a start-up and a 20-year career in the City.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Nicola Horlick
"Women have to understand that once they have children, they are not really on a level playing field anymore"

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