'I’m not trying to rebuild an ego': Neil Woodford appeals to professionals for his comeback biotech fund
Neil Woodford is back. For real.
More than a year after he was fired from his eponymous flagship fund — which followed a controversial and chaotic suspension that came on the heels of investors demanding their money back following two years of underperformance — the disgraced stockpicker said he’s ready to rebuild a biotech investment operation from scratch.
The new brand will be christened WCM Partners, after Woodford Capital Management, he told The Telegraph in an in-depth interview. Speaking publicly for the first time since getting sacked, he was at times emotional, apologetic and angry. Yet if anything, he still sounds confident.
There’s just one potential hitch (if you don’t count the rage of all the people whose money he bet with): Woodford is still under investigation by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, which could yet bar him from managing money from certain investors.
But it’s not stopping him and his right-hand man, Craig Newman, from dreaming about helping build “the AstraZenecas of the future.”
“I thought I never, ever want to be near the fund management industry again, but they say time is a healer,” he said in the interview. “I didn’t want what happened to me in 2019 to be the epitaph of my career, I didn’t want it to be the full stop. I’m not trying to rebuild an ego, I just felt I wanted to continue to do the things that I believe in. I don’t think I’m qualified to do anything else. You can imagine lots of people who have read the media about me wouldn’t want to touch me with a ten-foot disinfected bargepole.”
While admitting responsibility for underperforming, Woodford was still adamant that he would’ve proven naysayers wrong if only he was allowed to stay at the helm. Fund manager Link Fund Solutions’ decision to liquidate the Woodford Equity Income Fund was “incredibly damaging to investors, and they were not mine.”
Looking back at his portfolio, which was auctioned off for cheap, he feels vindicated.
Oxford Nanopore and Synairgen have come up with a test and a potential treatment for Covid-19 between themselves; Kymab and its atopic dermatitis drug has been bought by Sanofi in a $1.1 billion deal.
And for those who got riled up about the £60,000 in daily fees his fund was collecting even after freezing out investors, he noted that the whole debacle has cost him a £30 million farm in the Cotswolds that he used to call home.
“From the moment of the fund suspension Craig and I received absolutely no income, or dividends or any remuneration from Woodford Investment Management, none, and indeed haven’t received any for the best part of two years,” he said, adding later: “The last pay I received was in May 2019.”
Woodford claims he’s learned his lessons. First: He won’t be running a retail fund — not as long as he still wants to have unlisted assets. The new fund will solicit capital only from professionals.
It’s still unclear who might jump in. In late 2019, Bloomberg reported that Woodford and Newman had exploratory meetings with investors in China but nothing had materialized, at least publicly, from those talks.
What we do know is that the new firm will be staffed partially with friends from Acacia Research, a US-based life sciences group that profited handsomely on the other side of the Woodford fund’s fire sale. Woodford has been advising Acacia since last summer.
“We’ll have a different set of investors, those investors will by definition be taking structurally longer term views — we are not going to be running daily liquidity retail funds,” he said. “We won’t be exposed to the same sorts of problems.”