BARRA- lover Stephen Webster got an introduction to life on the Scottish island that some people would have found disconcerting.

The investment manager was being driven from the island’s airport with its beach landing strip by the woman who was to become his mother-in-law when a sheep took a close interest in her car.

“We got to a T junction and as we turned left this sheep jumped on the bonnet of the car and then just wandered off.

“My mother-in-law did not blink. It was like that happened all the time, and I thought if this is a place where sheep jump on cars and nobody bothers that’s the place for me.”

In 22 years of married life since then Mr Webster has become a regular visitor to the island where his wife’s family have crofts.

He loves spending quiet time unwinding in the country or by the sea but is glad to help out with crofting chores when he can.

“I can wrestle a sheep to the ground and sheer it,” notes Mr Webster. He admits though that his brother-in-law could probably sheer four of five animals in the time it takes him to do one.

Life on Barra is a world away from Mr Webster’s day job in the competitive financial services industry.

The Dundee university economics graduate has spent the last six years running Thorntons Investments in the city, where he spent his early years.

He only took on the job following a life-changing call that he took while walking his dog Dougal on Edinburgh’s Cramond foreshore.

The caller said there was a business looking for someone to run their investment operation. This proved to be Thorntons law firm, which has headquarters on Tayside.

Mr Webster was taking time out after helping complete the sale of the Bank of Scotland portfolio management business which he ran to Rathbones.

He had secured £28m backing for a plan to buy the operation, which he describes as a “cracking little business”, before the attempt was scuppered after Halifax Bank of Scotland succumbed to a rescue takeover by Lloyds Banking Group in 2009.

Lloyds went on to sell the business to Rathbones, which left Mr Webster with the prospect of a big job at the wealth manager.

However, the idea of moving to Rathbones in Liverpool did not appeal as his children were established in the Gaelic education system in Edinburgh at the time.

He appears to have no regrets about passing up the opportunity at Rathbones and deciding to devote his energies to helping to develop a smaller business.

Mr Webster reckons Thorntons Investments has made real progress in recent years after being spun out of its former parent on his recommendation.

The wealth manager provides services including discretionary asset management for clients and has grown funds under management from £130 million in 2012 to £420m. He is confident that can grow to £0.5 billion within 18 months and at least £1 billion within five years.

Products developed on Mr Webster’s watch have started to attract attention well beyond Dundee.

These include an Aim fund and five model portfolios which take approaches ranging from cautious to adventurous.

“We are very good at the cautious end of the spectrum, I would say we’re probably about average on the adventurous side,” observes Mr Webster.

“More people out there are interested in having a cautious mandate that has a decent return. Over the last three and a half years we’ve returned around 21 per cent on a cautious mandate which is a pretty good return in this market.”

Thorntons Investments is about to start making more noise in the market. While the business still gets valuable referrals from Thorntons law firm these alone won’t allow it to meet the targets set by Mr Webster. The onus is on the firm to get out and tell the likes of independent financial advisers and accountants what it is doing.

The firm’s first employee based in England is set to start work in the New Year, in Salisbury. The new hire will focus on business development work which will include cultivating links with IFAs.

When we meet Mr Webster is fresh off the sleeper train from London, a mode of transport he says is not ideal for a tall man like him.

Mr Webster has travelled as far afield as Chicago to talk to people who are interested in hearing about what Thorntons might offer. Investment advisers in the US are prepared to look beyond the country as they seek higher returns than might be on offer there.

He reckons the volatility that has hit markets this year will mean the skills Thornton Investments offer will be in big demand. The idea of investing in passive index trackers may become less appealing than it was during the long period in which markets seemed to be heading ever upwards, amid strong growth in corporate earnings and loose monetary policies.

“In the period of volatility that we are now in I would rather have somebody actively looking after my interests than simply following an index as it drops.

“I think there are a lot of active investment managers who are closet index trackers. You might buy 10 investment funds and discover that 80% of what you’re buying is the same across all 10 funds. That’s not serving the public well.”

While new pension freedoms in the UK may encourage people to consider using the services of firms such as Thorntons Investments, Mr Webster is not banging the drum for them.

He says people need to think long and hard before taking money out of defined benefit schemes that pay pensions based on final salaries. Some providers are keen to get such liabilities off their books.

“We’re not sure that’s going to end well.”

Mr Webster is keen to ensure that Thorntons Investments contributes to life in its home city and further afield. The firm sponsors awards that highlight the importance of the Gaelic language.

He is dismayed that the venerable Alliance Trust no longer has investment management operations in Dundee where it was an important force for decades. The management of its funds was transferred to outsiders under a shake up completed last year under the chairmanship of Lord Smith.

“I think he did the best that he could do under the circumstances. I think the decisions that he made have been in the best interests of shareholders of the trust and I don’t think you can ask anyone to do more than that.

“Do I think the previous regime was brilliant? I think there are some areas that if they were doing it again they would do differently.”

The prospect of the giant Michelin tyre factory which employs around 850 people in Dundee closing in 2020 dismays Mr Webster, who went to school with John Reid the plant’s manager.

But he appears to be genuinely excited about the recent transformation seen in Dundee, which suffered grim times as its industrial sector took a battering in the late twentieth century.

The new £85m V&A museum is the centrepiece of the revival and there is much else going on.

Mr Webster highlights the part played by the city’s universities in helping Dundee win a global reputation in new industries ranging from life sciences to cyber-security.

He is not so happy about the form of Dundee football club, which he supports.

But following the youngest of their three sons starting university, Mr Webster and wife Marion Sinclair have been enjoying developing interests such as ballroom dancing.

The investment business veteran says he has discovered he has a new talent in the process, declaring: “I was born to Tango.”