Joe Linhares, head of iShares EMEA, talks to Joanne Young about being at the forefront of the ETF industry and his expectations for radical growth
Joe Linhares moved to the UK in August 2010, newly appointed as head of iShares EMEA. Having worked in sales for the business since its inception, his posting was part of a general restructure effected after BlackRock acquired parent firm Barclays Global Investors (BGI).
Linhares is now based in London but travels frequently, visiting offices in Paris, Milan, Frankfurt and further afield. “Put it this way,” he says, “since I have been here I have only once bought a full week’s railcard.”
He says he enjoys the travel, getting to know the complexities and challenges of a diverse European market, and working to develop the firm’s interests in relatively embryonic markets such as the Gulf.
Linhares was working as a member of worldwide securities services at Citibank when he heard that BGI, a client of his, was preparing an ETF startup. He says he was attracted to what he saw as a rare opportunity to set up an asset management company from scratch that could cover all asset classes.
“A lot of people thought I was mad to be going anywhere near it. Their attitude was that beta was not going anywhere; but that just made it more interesting.”
From little acorns
When iShares launched in 2000 there were only a handful of ETFs on the market, with PowerShares QQQ and SPDR S&P 500 dominating proceedings. Linhares says despite the presence of these prominent funds, media coverage was limited in scope. “No-one was really explaining what an ETF is and what it does for investors.
“At the same time there was no comprehensive sales force, no proper website for example, even behind the high-profile products.”
Linhares started from scratch. Armed with lists of the top one hundred investors within various investor categories, he began cold-calling, initiating a process of education that continues to this day.
He explains: “Our business model was to take what was there, what we saw was a good idea, and popularise it for a mass audience – not just to compete on a couple of niches but to cover the entire spectrum.”
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