MARTIN Gilbert has declared his fund management career has been a “privilege” and an “incredible journey” as he revealed his departure from Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) yesterday.

But he admitted he was “lucky to survive” the crisis which brought Aberdeen Asset Management to its knees in the early part of the century.

Mr Gilbert, a star name in the UK financial services sector for the last three decades, will retire from SLA in September next year, after informing its board he will not seek re-election at its next annual general meeting on May 12.

The move comes after Mr Gilbert, who co-founded Aberdeen Asset Management in the early 1980s, and steered the investment house through its £11 billion merger with Standard Life in 2017, stepped down as joint chief executive of SLA in March.

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Reflecting on his career, the famous dealmaker said the highlights were “too many to mention”. Asked to pinpoint the low points, he referred without hesitation to the split-capital investment trust crisis, which threatened the existence of Aberdeen Asset Management in the early 2000s.

The scandal is estimated to have cost up to 50,000 private investors hundreds of millions of pounds and, while Aberdeen was one of several fund managers involved, it was the largest player in the sector.

Mr Gilbert and Aberdeen bounced back from the crisis, with a subsequent deal by the fund management house to acquire Edinburgh Fund Managers in 2013 seen as crucial to its recovery.

Mr Gilbert, 64, said of the splits crisis: “The low points were definitely the split-caps, where we were very lucky to survive. Certainly, I was lucky to survive as well. But yes, it has been some journey. I am privileged to have been part of it and I have got so many colleagues who have been along the way as well. It has been incredible.”

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On his exit from SLA, Mr Gilbert, said the decision was a “natural progression” after vacating the joint chief executive role, noting that he has “started to get offers” of work in the period since.

Mr Gilbert, a former chairman of FirstGroup and deputy chairman of Sky, issued a strong defence of the Aberdeen and Standard Life merger, despite the enlarged institution continuing to battle outflows from its key investment funds.

He said: “It has gone really well. I think both of us (Gilbert and Skeoch) probably feel we needed to do it. It has worked.

“I knew there were headwinds in the industry; I didn’t know how bad they were going to be, [which would] probably be a fair assessment. I do really think it was the right thing to do.”

SLA reported in August that it had stemmed net outflows to £15.9 billion in the first half, compared with £24bn for the same period last year, while assets under management and administration climbed to £577.5bn from £551.5bn at the end of 2018.

However, it warned market conditions remained “tough” because of continuing macroeconomic and political uncertainties.

Mr Gilbert told The Herald yesterday: “There are these systemic challenges to the industry, and it is not getting any easier.”

He noted that the fund management sector has “changed beyond all recognition” in the last 30 years, but declared it was still “vital as more and more people don’t have the safety net of a final salary pension scheme”.

Mr Gilbert said: “It has still got a vital role to play in society.”

While he will not be retiring – Mr Gilbert is on the board of FTSE 100 miner Glencore and advises the chief executive of Revolut - he will devote more time after he leaves SLA to play golf and ski.

Sir Douglas Flint, chairman of SLA, said: “It is impossible to overstate Martin’s achievement in building Aberdeen Asset Management into a truly global and widely-respected investment firm.

"His ability to attract talent to deliver that success and his unrelenting commitment to the firm’s clients leave a legacy of which he should be immensely proud, and which serves as a solid foundation for our future success.”