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Two heads could be equal to none in Aberdeen and Standard Life tie-up

Keith Skeoch, chief executive of Standard Life CEO (right) and Martin Gilbert, of Aberdeen Asset Management
Keith Skeoch, chief executive of Standard Life CEO (right) and Martin Gilbert, of Aberdeen Asset Management Credit: GRAHAM FLACK/STANDARD LIFE

There is an old adage in investment banking circles, where such structures tend to be popular, that having co-heads of a department “equals no heads”. Creating such a competitive duopoly is believed by those who put them in place to generate creative tensions between the two involved, and leads to a better outcome than if there was just one manager.

But the saying stems from the belief, borne out by real-life examples – John Studzinski and Stuart Gulliver at HSBC spring to mind – that it is impossible for two people to run a team or business together. It is a phrase that came to my mind – and that of many others – when realising that the proposed merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management involved both chief executives staying on to run the enlarged company together.

Keith Skeoch and Martin Gilbert, the respective bosses of Standard Life and Aberdeen respectively, are old friends,...

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