Candour can have a concentrating effect when it is delivered together with that quintessentially British quality of self-effacing humour. Ask David Salisbury, who wears both with the familiarity of a favoured tweed jacket that might have been an alternative uniform had he continued doing mathematics at Oxford University. Instead, he has found an early ease in a pin-striped suit, uniform of the banker he became and has been now for an uninterrupted 27 years - all of them spent with London-based asset-manager and financial services group, Schroders. 'That looks incredibly boring,' he begins, disarmingly. Rewarded, surely though, with suitable largesse? An anniversary celebration and a gratuity - not to mention the de rigueur gold watch? 'I got nothing,' he replies with a smile; sure of the dramatic impact of this essay at insouciance. And then, after a pause: 'Correction. I got a letter from the chairman.' The ice being broken and the foundation in place for an exchange which promises to be both friendly and frank, it is time to put those 27 'boring' years into some perspective. For a start, they are embedded in a corporate culture at Schroders that values wisdom. And whatever other territory they might have colonised, the dotcom whizzkids, or the campus-clad US investment bankers lay no claim - yet - on wisdom. Smart? Maybe. But wise? In time, perhaps. At Schroders, on the other hand, with some striking exceptions most of the group senior management have been with the firm for more than 15 years. Indeed, not a few have been there for more than 20 years, says Mr Salisbury. The value attached to experience aside, that personnel profile reflects the fact that the group 'sought to grow the business predominantly organically rather than by acquisition - and predominantly by developing our own people and giving them the opportunities'. But if you think that translates into jobs for life for the idle or complacent, think again. 'Obviously you have to strike a balance. If you just grow your own people you become too inbred,' he hastens to add. But it does mean senior managers get to know one another well, communication is fluid, and - most importantly - mistakes are regarded as learning opportunities rather than sacking offences. 'I believe what differentiates strong companies from mediocre companies is not whether you make mistakes - because all companies make mistakes - it's what you do when you make a mistake,' says Mr Salisbury. 'And we tend to try and learn, rather than immediately turning around and chopping people's heads off because they've made a mistake.' But be warned, this is not a culture of avuncular patience, irrespective of how poorly you perform. A mistaken theorem, after all, may lose you no more than your Upper First. A mistaken investment could be a lot more costly. 'It's jobs for life provided you earn your right to them every day,' says Mr Salisbury. But management demographics aside, surely another consequence of choosing an organic growth route is that you limit the size of an organisation. Is small, along with age, beautiful? Mr Salisbury would not put it quite like that. 'London merchant banking - which is our heritage - is a knowledge-intensive business,' he says. And doing that business well involves leveraging knowledge in a syndicated fashion. 'You tend to ally your own knowledge with other people's capital, with other people's distribution capability for example in selling retail products, and with other people's operational capabilities. 'In this way you get the benefit of size without having all those resources in-house.' Ironically, this centuries-old approach to doing business finds an echo in the Internet, where the business model, says Mr Salisbury, is very similar. Most recently, Schroders trimmed itself down to the basics of being a knowledge-intensive business by disposing of its investment banking arm to the Citibank Group, in order to renew its focus on asset management and private banking. At the time, speculation was rife that the 182-year-old institution, which had its roots in family-owned merchant banking, was about to give up its heritage and allow itself to be entirely gobbled-up by a US firm. How comfortable does Mr Salisbury feel about the slimmed-down Schroders maintaining its independence? 'I feel extremely comfortable, because I believe - and we believe as a company - that there are enormous opportunities in the asset management business. 'Indeed, I think it is quite sad to see how many people are selling out of the business and taking a capital gain in the short-term, when there are still so many great long-term opportunities. 'And we are today significantly the largest independent asset manager - in other words not owned by a life insurance company or a broker or a bank - outside of North America.' That differentiates Schroders, he says, and relieves it of a need to fall under common ownership of a conglomerate with global distribution capability. 'We think we can partner with other firms in the distribution area, in the custody area, and so on.' It is now three years short of three decades since the young Mr Salisbury joined Schroders' London Research department and was more or less instantly despatched - on a travelling scholarship from his alma mater - to the Far East. There he could cut his teeth on a research paper examining the development of Singapore and Hong Kong as financial centres. And what conclusions did he reach? 'That I was completely wet behind the ears for a start,' he says, semi-seriously. But the mask of humour does not entirely cover a defensive cast that falls over his eyes. That first visit in 1973 has been followed by trips too frequent to mention, and, over time, meetings with increasingly more important people in each city. Mr Salisbury, custodian of each of the rival city's savings, is not about to be led into an ambush. So, being not entirely wet behind the ears, he learned also, he says, that he was not about to pretend in his paper which of the two cities he thought would be more successful. 'Though I did say . . . I mean it seemed to me that the essence of the difference at that time . . . that Hong Kong epitomised the laissez-faire approach to market development, whereas Singapore epitomised more the de registe approach. 'And I think that I would argue that though the differences are less than they were in 1973, that is still the character difference between them.' Back in 1973, he adds, the interesting thing was that the Hong Kong market had collapsed and was in the process at the time of picking up the pieces. 'They had a boom in 1972 which got completely overblown with a huge raft of IPO issues which included quite a lot of speculative companies which got into difficulties in the following year,' recalls Mr Salisbury. Then came the oil crisis and inflation which pushed up interest rates and burst the asset price bubble in an outcome not dissimilar to the cycle of the dotcom revolution. 'If you do have companies that are valued on quite futuristic expectations and if you then have a slight upturn in interest rates, people suddenly start looking at their cash position in the short-term, and they come down to earth with a bit of a bump - which is what had happened then, and what happened now,' he said. (Therein, no doubt, lies the Schroder maxim of valuing age for the experience it brings.) To a degree Singapore shared in that boom-bust, he added. So what conclusion did he reach about the different approaches to managing both success and failure? 'I think if I recall rightly that there was room for both approaches - but either way that it looked as if Southeast Asia was set for extraordinary growth and that both would benefit. 'Of course I haven't looked at the paper in 20 years. 'But I'm sure that is what I would have written,' he adds with an arch smile. Biography David Salisbury joined Schroders' London research department in 1973 and held a variety of research and management positions in London and New York until 1979 when he was appointed head of research. In 1984, he became executive vice-president of Schroders'Capital Management International, the group's subsidiary managing international equity portfolios for US clients, and in 1986 its chief executive. In January 1995, he was appointed joint-chief executive of Schroders' Investment Management and became chairman in January 1997. He was appointed chief executive of Schroders plc in May 2000. Mr Salisbury was born in 1952 and in 1973 graduated from Oxford University where he read mathematics.