Jonathan Digges is the new Chief Investment Officer for Octopus Investments. We asked him to tell us about his plans for the fund management group, and reveal what makes him such a calm, composed presence in a fast-paced environment.
Can you tell us about your new role?
As Chief Investment Officer, I’m here to coordinate the six businesses that form the engine of our fund management group, as well as overseeing the essential services that each business needs.
Most of my time is spent with the leaders of these businesses – discussing their strategies, budgets and priorities, as well as making sure we share best practice and keep communicating with each other.
Previously, these businesses all ran quite autonomously. Part of my role involves helping them keep all the benefits of that autonomy, while ensuring they also make the most of being part of a larger, diversified group of businesses.
What do you think your biggest challenge will be?
In the short-term, proving my value. I’m well aware that people can just sit in a position of authority, and take it for granted. I believe you have to show you’re there for a reason, prove your worth, and inspire a team to come along with you.
Medium-term, it’s about building on the success of Octopus Investments. We’ve had a really great period of growth with some of our retail-focused investments, and now we want to move into new areas. The challenge is how we do it – and a lot of that rests with me.
What are you most looking forward to?
Working with – and helping – leaders from all the businesses, including Octopus Healthcare, Octopus Ventures, Octopus Property and Octopus Energy Investments, to name a few.
It’s exciting when you feel you can play a part in helping things evolve. Octopus is constantly changing, which presents exciting opportunities that I can get involved in.
What did you do before you joined Octopus?
I’m 48, so I’ve been working for a while! I started out as an accountant at Price Waterhouse. I also spent eight years in Investment Banking, with BNP Paribas and Robert Fleming.
In 2005, I helped set up Mecom Group, a newspaper publishing business. Together we grew it into a major European company, transforming and consolidating European regional newspaper publishers.
After that, I joined Lloyds Bank, where I restructured distressed companies, so they could be sold out of the bank.
I wasn’t sure where all this experience could lead, but having seen some of the big ups and downs of business, I found that Octopus was a good fit. I joined in 2015, starting as Portfolio Manager for Octopus Inheritance Tax Service – the biggest fund in our business. Later, I became Head of the Specialist Finance team.
What’s the most entrepreneurial thing you’ve ever done?
It has to be starting Mecom as one of the four co-founders. Within three years, we rocketed up to 10,000 staff, in five geographies, with a €1.5 billion turnover. It became the biggest regional newspaper publisher in Europe.
But there was a rather spectacular end to all of it. The financial crash happened just as technology began making an impact. People stopped reading newspapers because they were using iPads, which decimated the advertising industry.
In the end, I spent four years building the company and then two years dismantling it – but this experience proved invaluable, thankfully.
What was your first impression when you joined Octopus?
I could see immediately that Octopus was full of ambitious, positive people. They’re also some of the nicest I’ve worked with. When I joined Octopus, it was a lot like a start-up, but large enough that the job came without the pitfalls. It was also a young team with plenty of responsibility.
I hate to say it, but in some ways, I was brought in for a bit of ‘grey hair’ – to add my experience. Since then, the team has evolved. Octopus is good at balancing the energy and ‘can-do’ spirit of youth, with the experience and sanity-checking of older people.
How do other people describe you?
I think they’d say “calm, composed, human, pragmatic, and relaxed”. Am I as calm as people think? Probably not… None of us are. I have the same worries and stresses as anyone, but I do stay quite calm. Perspective helps – in the end, it’s a job.
The thing is, you have to enjoy the work you do. I often find myself tidying up work on a Saturday afternoon, but I enjoy it as much as going for a run or playing sport. It’s not a chore for me.
I’m very solutions-driven too. I’m often dealing with a lot of demanding, complicated things at once. For some people, dealing with shifting goalposts is overwhelming. But, by staying calm and pragmatic, I can deal with it.
What do you do to relax?
Cooking, eating and a drink are high up on my list. I’m also a runner – well, more the ‘fat one who goes running’. I play squash, and the occasional round of golf. But mainly, I spent my downtime chilling out with my family and taxiing my kids around on the weekends, like any dad.
What brings you joy?
My kids. There’s nothing more joyful than seeing delight on their faces, and seeing their success. And my wife, of course. I mustn’t forget her!
My dog, Barley, is another source of unbridled joy. Seeing his unfailingly happy face when I come downstairs in the morning is a real high point of my day. I’m working on getting a second…
What do you love most about working here?
I think it’s the three things that most attracted me initially: the people, the ambition and the pace of change. This is a place where good people can develop quickly. I was told that before I joined, and it really is true.
The people at Octopus are genuinely such good people – everyone gets along with each other. That’s quite rare in a big company like ours, and it’s part of my job to make sure we never take it for granted.