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In a world of faceless mutual funds, AGF Management has its image nailed down.

Smart TV spots featuring the likes of a retired Spiderman and Hulk, with the tag line "What are you doing after work?," plus a tiger logo have established the 46-year-old AGF brand with the investing public. If the company was selling soap or minivans, this consumer awareness would be a giant step toward success. Solid performance from the company's funds would pretty much clinch the sale.

However, AGF recognized this month that it had to do something more than just the cartoon characters, however memorable they may be, to keep growing, to keep winning clients in a sector that's increasingly dominated by its largest players.

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AGF chief executive officer Blake Goldring announced "the tiger is back on the prowl" as he hired Randy Ambrosie to be the company's new head of marketing and sales. In his previous lives, Mr. Ambrosie was a stockbroker's stockbroker, building his own following of clients, then running branches, regions and the whole North American network for dealers such as Midland Walwyn, Merrill Lynch, CIBC World Markets and most recently HSBC Securities.

In addition to recruiting Mr. Ambrosie, who won a Grey Cup during a solid eight-year pro football career, AGF brought on Dan Richards as a part-time adviser. Mr. Richards, who was CEO of financial planning firm Cartier Partners until it was bought by Dundee Wealth Management, has returned to consulting with a passion by securing a mandate from AGF, along with assignments from a bank and a planning firm.

All of these changes at the top of the $30.4-billion money manager raise an interesting point about just who is a mutual fund's most important client.

Mr. Ambrosie joins the team to improve AGF's relationship with stockbrokers, who sell about half of its funds, along with the planners and insurance agents who split responsibility for the rest. These are all independent agents; unlike many rivals, AGF does not have its own sales force. It's a manufacturer, others do the distributing.

Brokers and planners can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed these days, buried in new fund launches, and still a bit shell-shocked from the carnage wrought by the bear market. There's an opportunity for those companies that help them see through the fog.

When it comes to motivating brokers, Mr. Ambrosie is a proven talent. On his watch at Midland Walwyn, the Ontario region went from accounting for 30 per cent of the company's business to 61 per cent. Just how he's going to get advisers excited about AGF isn't quite clear. Interviewed last week after all of two hours in his new role, Mr. Ambrosie could only say: "I know it's a cliché, but I'm going to take our whole value proposition here at AGF and make sure that fits and is clearly stated through all our sales channels."

AGF will make an interesting case study over the next few years.

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If Mr. Ambrosie succeeds in his new career by bringing assets in the door, and there's every indication he will, it will prove that a mutual fund manager's most important audience is the financial adviser community, rather than the people who own its funds.

MacNaughton leaving CPP

After taking the CPP Investment Board from a concept to one of the country's largest money managers, John MacNaughton is walking away from what he describes as the "best job in Canada."

Mr. MacNaughton, who turns 60 in March, announced yesterday that he plans to retire as CEO and president of the public pension fund over the next six to nine months, after helping make the transition to a new leader.

"I'm so proud of what we, as a team, accomplished here," said Mr. MacNaughton, the former president of investment dealer Burns Fry who was the CPP's first employee five years ago. But he added that constant travel means "it's hard work, and I'm looking for the next adventure."

On Mr. MacNaughton's watch, the CPP has found its legs as an independent money manager, moving far more quickly than even the CEO thought possible to establish a global investment mandate, and the near certainty of $100-billion in assets by the time he departs.

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Those interested in succeeding Mr. MacNaughton should know that last year he took home $415,000 in salary and another $438,027 in bonus.

awillis@globeandmail.ca

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