After cutting his teeth at a variety of high-stress jobs in the City of London, Darren Johnson finally struck a balance between hard work and tranquility. Now as COO of Impax Asset Management, he sees the future in the cloud. By Steve Dew-Jones with photos by Jonathan Goldberg
Impax Asset Management COO Darren Johnson points to the character of Alex Keaton, played by actor Michael J. Fox on the US sitcom Family Ties, as a guiding inspiration for who he was to become. On the show, Keaton is an ambitious young student who goes on to become a stockbroker—a path Johnson followed, even if his journey was less academic.
Deciding that experience would be more useful than letters after his name, Johnson went straight from school into the job market, starting as a management accountant for an aviation company, before inching toward asset management by working for two firms servicing the industry—Euraplan, a software provider, and Mercer, a consultancy.
“The vision is that, eventually, all of us will be able to work anywhere in the world—we will be able to connect to each other and our work anywhere we need to be. I think we’re slowly moving toward that, and we’re slowly trying to integrate everything, including our website.”
Eventually, Johnson got his first break in the asset management industry by taking on a technology implementation at Legal & General Investment Management. Moves to AXA Investment Managers and London-based hedge fund RAB Capital followed, but the dog-eat-dog culture of the City started to take its toll on Johnson, and on his marriage and life at home with a young son.
Johnson sought refuge in the relative tranquility of Hampstead in London, working for a family firm, Talisman Asset Management—a job he says was the defining moment of his career to date.
“It was a more tranquil job in the sense that it was in Hampstead as opposed to the City [of London], but you still had to work hard,” he says. “You had to have the answers—you couldn’t afford not to be knowledgeable about the topic or the subject, so that was the job that made me who I am today. I had no option but to be good at my job—very good at my job—and it really helped me get ahead of the curve and try to make a name for myself in the industry.”
By this point, Johnson says the stress of the industry had already caused him to lose of most of his hair, but from his description of life as a father, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Johnson sets high standards for his children—a trio of boys aged eight, five and two—all of whom will end up as professional soccer players if he has his way. In his spare time, he coaches his elder two sons’ soccer teams. And there’s little choice regarding which club they’ll represent. “They’ll play for Arsenal—there isn’t really any other option apart from that,” says Johnson.
Even if his boys don’t make it into the Premier League, under Johnson’s stewardship, they will excel at whatever they choose to do. It’s the only option.
“I’m quite straight with my children,” Johnson says. “I say that if you’re good at something, I expect you to strive to be the best at it. I don’t expect you to be mediocre. You have no option but to work to try to be the best at that particular sport or with school work. I try to ingrain that philosophy in their minds so that they work hard, because even if they’re not the best, if they aim to be the best, of course they’re going to do well.”
“No pressure, then!” says Anne Gilding, head of brand communications at Impax, from across the table.
Johnson continues: “I say to them that in life you’ve got to be able to cope with pressure, and for me, the younger you start, the better. There are different types of pressure, but you need to learn to cope with whatever is thrown at you.”
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