Robin Mann: Taking the Path Less Travelled, Relishing Challenge and Change

“I’m looking for people who can think for themselves and bring unique viewpoints,” Robin Mann says, “and they can come from any background.”

Robin Mann, Head Of Investment Banking, Stifel Europe

Head Of Investment Banking: Robin Mann

Robin Mann loves his career because it involves constant change.

There is no room for stasis in the life of a Cambridge man whose great inspiration is King Lear — and no sign of a typical banker’s profile, either. “My studies taught me to think for myself,” he says. “I’m much more interested in hearing someone’s ideas than rehashing their professional qualifications, which are often overvalued in traditional investment banking.”

Unpredictability is a life spice for Mann, who has been in his role since 2014. “Our business life is full of variety as so many different situations are encountered,” he says. Mann certainly isn’t getting bored. Stifel has seen spectacular growth, and he aims to maintain that momentum.

As an up and coming player, , he knows that industry giants have certain advantages. Their brand scalability is one, but size can be a disadvantage, he believes: the bulge brackets may lack flexibility.

He has previously worked as head of securities, first at Collins Stewart and then Canaccord Genuity. He also spent four years as a consumer analyst with HSBC Securities.

The entrepreneurial attitude at Collins Stewart, quite different from that at HSBC, appealed to Mann, with some reservations: it was sink or swim. “You were left to yourself and there was no support. I learned much at Collins Stewart.” But his management style at Stifel is a supportive one: “The world has moved on.”

The growth at Stifel excites Mann and is increasing year-by-year. Revenues shot up by 20 percent during 2020 and he was impressed that people and systems at Stifel proved to be adaptable and resilient in the face of the pandemic fallout.

Stifel’s investment in people was significant last year and will be again in 2021. “We really had no clue what was coming our way in March, and I had no idea how effectively businesses would adapt. But there are limits. It’s not easy to develop meaningful new relationships over Zoom.”

As far as mid-term prospects are concerned, he expects to see more growth by identifying areas of the market that are less understood. “I’m not looking for vanilla changes,” he says. “In fact, competing only for vanilla business head-to-head with every other investment banker on the planet doesn’t strike me as an effective long-term strategy.”

One new development in investment banking concerns legal services. With a backload of cases to be considered, litigation finance, especially for corporates, is now front and centre. Stifel is well placed to respond to such needs.

Growth is the Mann mantra: “It’s really difficult to get excited every day when you’re going through a turbulent time and the business is not growing. Our general intention is to grow and grow. And you grow in this industry by hiring more and more capable people.

“The reality is that this is a people business. This year we have added excellent people across several promising areas. One of the things that the firm has been good at is bringing in quality people that constantly raise the bar.”

Robin Mann points out that Stifel has been active in the capital markets over the past four or five years and ranks highly. He is pleased that his company contributed, alongside the giants, to the much-needed UK Listing Review.

As for opportunities post-Brexit, he is bullish about the country’s prospects of continuing as a leading global financial centre. “The world has changed, and London will not have the same pre-eminent position as it once did, but we still have important advantages — including our position within the time zones, the legal frameworks in place, and our great location.

“I would expect the UK to again become a more attractive venue for entrepreneurs and companies to realise their ambitions.”

Mann believes that a successful corporate leader — regardless of industry — should be down-to-earth. “They must have a big presence and be available to respond whenever the need arises,” he says. “Everyone must know that you will be there when the going gets tough, and that you are not the sort of person who hides behind a desk. Leaders must appreciate what needs to be done when the going gets rough.

“Anyone can lead a company when all is going well. Leadership is challenged when things are unsure and there are difficulties to be faced.”

As far as leadership skills in his own industry are concerned, Mann has some simple advice: “Never give up. And understand that you are likely to contend with considerable rejection and failure over the course of your career.”

Lessons learnt by Mann include the realisation that problems aren’t always what they seem. “With hindsight, it’s clear that many things that seemed important at the time really were not.”

He says he is often appalled by the lack of diversity in the industry. “I’m looking for people who can think for themselves and bring unique viewpoints,” he says, “and they can come from any background.”

Robin Mann craves that variety — and he’s looking for more growth.

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