Investment manager of the largest fund in the City

Born: September 29, 1932;

Died: September 16, 2019

PETER Stormonth Darling, who has died aged 86, was chairman of Mercury Asset Management (MAM), the investment arm of the powerful City merchant bank S.G. Warburg. From 1969 his flair and foresight saw MAM grow to become the City’s largest fund manager and was eventually sold for a large sum to the giant American finance house of Merrill Lynch in 1998.

The years saw investment management at its height and Stormonth Darling was a pioneer in adapting to the post-Big Bang conditions. In his memoir, City Cinderella, Stormonth Darling declared, with typical modesty, that the firm’s success was the work of others and that he happened to be around at the right time. But as chairman he ensured that MAM was in the vanguard of managing pension funds long before its competitors.

Throughout his years in the City, Stormonth Darling remained a great lover of Scotland and, in particular, Perthshire – spending many summer holidays there. He was born and brought up on the family estate of Balvarran north of the River Ardle in the heart of Strathardle near Blairgowrie and served with distinction with the Black Watch. He maintained a close connection with the Scottish business community through directorships of Scottish Equitable and Scottish & Southern Energy.

He was a keen supporter of the museum on St Kilda and its expansion in 2003. Stormonth Darling advised on pension matters for the National Trust of Scotland and gave through, his own charitable foundation, to many Scottish charities concentrating on social welfare activities, health and sporting societies.

Peter Stormonth Darling was the youngest of three children – his father Patrick, was a Scottish barrister, and his mother Edith as born in Ireland. His parents separated in his youth and when his father died, Balvarran, which had been in the Stormonth family since the 18th century, passed to his elder brother Robin.

Stormonth Darling attended Winchester where he was a keen athlete and opened the bowling for the 1st X1. He also became an avid collector of butterflies. Among his contemporaries was the future Conservative Cabinet Minister Geoffrey Howe.

He was commissioned into the Black Watch (his father’s regiment) and initially served in Berlin before volunteering to extend his service in Korea. In 1952 Stormonth Darling was involved in the Battle of The Hook (known as ‘Bloody Hook’ by the troops) which concerned the fierce fighting for a strategic position vital for the UN forces to retain. Conditions were awful – the rain was torrential (one officer reported “this is a lousy place”) and the Black Watch had been issued with steel helmets as the Chinese shelling was so heavy.

One night-raid saw over 4000 shells bombard the platoon’s position followed by Chinese soldiers fighting ‘like tigers’ until dawn. It was a dire situation but Stormonth Darling showed his mettle and led his men with authority and bravery. Of the experience he wrote, “it stretched to the limit whatever qualities of leadership I may have possessed”.

He then read law at New College, Oxford, worked in Canada for a few years and was appointed to a post as an investment manager with Warburg in 1957. Stormonth Darling’s career prospered - he specialised in the North American market and that brought him into further contact with Scotland as many of the investment trusts were then increasing their dollar portfolios. He was appointed vice-chairman of the bank in 1977.

In 1979 he became chairman of MAM but was instructed by the ever idiosyncratic Siegmund Warburg to sell the investment division. Warburg regarded investment management, Stormonth Darling wrote in City Cinderella, as “a second-class activity only slightly better than stockbroking.” Warburg had tried to sell the division without success to both Lazards and Robert Fleming, which had its origins in Dundee in 1893 and had family connections with Ian Fleming, author of the Bond novels.

Under Stormonth Darling’s calm, assured and skilled management, MAM expanded as an independent company and when it was floated in 1987 it commanded an attractive price. It confirmed Stormonth Darling’s decision not to sell the business and made him and several of his colleagues wealthy. He retired from MAM in 1992.

All his life Stormonth Darling was an inveterate collector. Apart from anything to do with MAM his interest in butterflies was a remaining passion. He also collected stamps, owned a complete set of Wisden, other cricket memorabilia and Scottish banknotes.

He married first, in 1958, Candis Hitzig; the marriage was dissolved and he married secondly, in 1971, Maureen O’Leary, who died in 2015. He is survived by three daughters of the first marriage.