Nicola Horlick has always generated column inches well beyond the City pages. Her battle to retain control of her flagship Bramdean Alternatives fund is no exception. "Has Superwoman met her Nemesis?" cried the Daily Mail. It makes for juicy reading; her antagonist, Vincent Tchenguiz, is a "vengeful playboy, who has vowed to destroy her". Indeed, "she might have finally met her match" in Tchenguiz (see below) who, "like Horlick, compels and repulses in even measure", says The Daily Telegraph.
Having taken hefty losses on his 29.9% stake in the fund, Tchenguiz now alleges mismanagement. He aims to oust Horlick and liquidate the fund. Horlick has retaliated by suggesting that Tchenguiz is only agitating because he faces a £40m cash-call from the bust Icelandic bank, Kaupthing. This is something that Tchenguiz categorically denies. The gloves are off, says The Times, and this fight could get dirtier still.
Horlick, an alumna of Cheltenham Ladies' College and Balliol, Oxford, first hit the headlines in 1997, when she was suspended by Deutsche Morgan Grenfell amid allegations (denied by Horlick) that she'd tried to defect to a rival bank and take her team with her. She took half of Fleet Street to storm the bank's Frankfurt offices, but in the end resigned, and later set up an investment management business for Socit Gnrale. But it was her role as the City's 'superwoman', the wealthy investment banker who doubled as the young mother of six, that really puther in the spotlight, says The Mail on Sunday.
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The death of Horlick's oldest daughter, Georgie, from leukaemia; the end of her 20-year marriage after her husband's affair with a receptionist; the way she fought off a gun-toting mugger outside her £5m South Kensington home all were raked over as her private and public lives merged. Horlick said she hated the 'superwoman' tag. But she still wrote a book,
; the implicit answer being that she certainly could. In 2006, when she launched Bramdean, she continued her emotional commentary. The decision to go it alone was crucial to rebuilding her life, she told the Evening Standard. "Georgie would not want me to sit and crumble."
At first, all seemed to go swimmingly. "I wrote the business plan in my drawing room... It was easy to get the money," says Horlick. Yet Bramdean didn't draw the hoped-for flood of cash. After the disappointing float of the Alternatives fund in 2007, Horlick welcomed the £40m investment from Tchenguiz's vehicle, Elsina. Doubts about her investments (including a major play on Guy Hands' Terra Firma fund) began to surface last year. The crunch came in December; Bramdean took huge losses courtesy of Bernie Madoff, making a mockery of Horlick's boast of conducting "robust and thorough due diligence". She was hardly the only City swell taken in, says The Daily Telegraph. But she made the fall-out worse by railing against the US regulators and accusing those singling out her fund of sexism.
So what now for Nicola? The knives are out, says the Daily Mail, quoting a Tchenguiz adviser who claims "Vincent intends to crush her" and that "everyone in the City is rooting for him". Horlick has certainly been toppled from her pedestal. Still, at 48, she's plenty of time to fight-back. And having "an ego the size of The Ritz" should stand her in good stead, says The Daily Telegraph.
Vincent Tchenguiz: the vengeful playboy who could bring her down
The Tchenguiz name "has been a byword for investment losses during the financial crisis", but it is Robert, rather than his brother Vincent, who seems to have suffered most, says The Independent. Vincent Tchenguiz boasts that his Consensus Business Group (which majors on property) has come through the downturn "quite unscathed". In 2008, he made a solo appearance in The Sunday Times Rich list, valued at £200m, while Robert dropped off the leader-board completely.
The brothers were born in Iran of Jewish-Iraqi descent and got their surname when their father adopted the Persian name for "Genghis". Having secured a hefty chunk of trading capital from their father, they set up the Rotch Property Group in London in 1982, building a £4bn commercial property portfolio at the market's peak.
Vincent set up Consensus as a side business in 2001. He never made a secret of borrowing up to 100% of a building's value, notes The Daily Telegraph, "and seems to thrive as much on risk as on profit". A compulsive trader, he is renowned for making audacious bets behind a bank of at least 12 screens at his Mayfair headquarters.
Tchenguiz is a playboy: when the pride of his private fleet, Veni Vidi Vici, speeds into Cannes, "even Roman Abramovich looks on in yacht envy", says The Daily Telegraph.
Back when they were still friends, Tchenguiz told Horlick's journalist husband, Martin Baker, "I go to clubs, and have a good blast... and maybe get a nice girl." When he finds a suitable candidate, he tells rivals "you can look but don't touch". He takes a similarly proprietary view of his business interests.
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