The departure of Paul Fiani from UBS Asset Management just days after he used a vital 6% stake to block the Qantas takeover is a cracking story no matter which way you look at it.

Was he pushed for denying the UBS investment bankers their share of the estimated $95 million in fees that Qantas would have paid if the $11 billion privatisation had gone through?

Is he cashing in on his independent stand to make millions in his own boutique fund?

Or did he leave due to poor performance given that UBS’s conservative approach left it lagging behind the benchmark during the recent sharemarket boom, as The Australian reported today.

The truth is probably a combination of all three. The AFR claimed on the front-page today that Fiani “had grown frustrated at the firm’s policy that prevented him from speaking out on Qantas”.

It was indeed bizarre that fellow recalcitrant Andrew Sisson, albeit reluctantly, was able to milk the enormous publicity and kudos from standing up to the APA barbarians whilst Fiani was forced to maintain a consistent “no comment”. Fiani now wants to emulate Sisson’s Balanced Equity Management by setting up his own boutique in which no one will be able to gag him.

No doubt he’d also love to join the likes of Sisson, 452 Capital’s Peter Morgan, and Anton Tagliaferro from Investors Mutual — all of whom should appear on the 2007 BRW Rich List next week.

Whilst investment returns are the most important criteria, institutions, especially those with a union pedigree in the industry funds, like to see feisty independence from their managers — independence that often plays out in the press.

Fiani is said to be a typically strong-willed, big-talking fund manager with a healthy ego and he’ll now be able to play the media game in his own fund. The big question is whether much of the UBS billions will follow Fiani out the door.

Refusing to accept APA’s Qantas bid in the face of strong internal criticism will go down as one of the great acts of institutional independence. If only Colonial First State had done the same thing with the BHP-Billiton merger when they made noises about rejecting it, but then handed over the largest Australian shareholding to get the bid over the line.

John Ralph was a prominent director of BHP and the chairman of Colonial’s parent, the Commonwealth Bank, at the time. BHP shareholders would be tens of billions of dollars better off today if they’d stayed independent from Billiton, so Colonial’s capitulation shouldn’t ever be forgotten.