From refugee to one of asset management’s ‘smartest men’

Abdallah Nauphal was a teenager when he fled Lebanon in 1978 to escape the country’s brutal civil war, a route hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens would take over the 15-year conflict.

Now chief executive of Insight Investment, the £552bn fund house, Mr Nauphal appears uncomfortable discussing that time. The little he says reveals much about the businessman he became in the decades since.

“We were killing each other in Lebanon. Everybody was saying, ‘Oh, it [the civil war] will be done in six months’. But it became obvious to me that this was something that was going to last 20 years or something,” he says.

“You learn a lot going through it [escaping a war-torn country]. It teaches you a certain set of values. It also teaches you to think slightly differently, [to have] more of a survival stake rather than just do what others are doing.”

Almost 40 years later, there are still signs of the contrarian in Mr Nauphal. Over coffee, which he admits drinking for the caffeine fix rather than the taste, at Insight’s London headquarters, the 56-year-old is dismissive of the oft-mooted idea that asset managers either need to be big and diverse, or small and specialised.

In recent years, several asset managers, including Henderson and Janus, have merged, while others have expanded into new asset classes. The aim is to offer a one-stop shop for investors, where clients can get their equity, bond and alternative exposure, and everything in between, without having to go elsewhere.

Tall, imposing and frank, Mr Nauphal says he is “amazed” that asset managers keep building out their investment offices. “For me, the concept is basic: we know what we want to do, and we want to do only what we are good at, and that limits, at the end of the day, what we do.”

Although Insight oversees more than half a trillion pounds, it works in just three areas: fixed income, multi-asset and liability-driven investment (LDI), a strategy used by pension funds…

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