For almost a quarter-century, Anthony Bolton has been quietly delivering big gains for investors in the Fidelity Investments Special Situations Fund. Then last fall he got a little loud, using Fidelity's clout to deny Michael Green the chairmanship of British commercial broadcaster ITV, which was being created by the merger of Carlton Communications and Granada, two companies that had disappointed investors in the past. Bolton suddenly found himself a media star -- dubbed by the press "the quiet assassin." He persuaded the boards that too many shareholders were opposed.
The low-key 54-year-old Fidelity International fund manager almost squirms with unease as he talks about this episode. But he is credited with scoring a victory for better corporate governance. The original management plan for ITV was to have Granada boss Charles Allen get the CEO slot while Green, Carlton's founder, would join him as executive chairman. That scheme struck Bolton and other investors as too incestuous. "We thought in this case that they needed someone without attachments and [with] a completely fresh mind to look at long-term strategy," Bolton says. Fidelity pre-vailed. Peter Burt, a former Bank of Scotland CEO, became chairman.
Bolton says he doesn't often wade into corporate disputes but does like to take positions in companies about to make big changes. "I look for a hidden growth stock or a business franchise that the market doesn't give enough credit, or maybe a new area that investors aren't used to looking at, he says."
Whatever his formula, it has worked like a charm for the Cambridge University-educated classical music buff. In the 10 years ended Mar. 31, the Fidelity Special Situations Fund, a London-based mutual fund with $6.2 billion in assets, has turned in 14.6% annualized growth. Bolton doesn't mind offering advice to companies in his portfolio. After the battle over ITV, they have reason to pay close attention.