“I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything.” – Richard Feynman
“When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?” – John Maynard Keynes (attrib.)
“For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, and found to be otherwise.” – Benjamin Franklin
At 16 I’d wanted to be a doctor. But a visit to the local hospital ended with me fainting, putting paid to that idea. So I doubled down on maths and got a place at Oxford to study that instead.
My first job after graduating was as an equity research analyst for BZW in London. BZW was the investment banking arm of Barclays Bank, put together in a three-way merger several years prior. Unbeknownst to me, things weren’t going well for the firm. Years later in his superb history of Barclays, The Bank that Lived a Little, Philip Augar would write:
BZW was indeed delusional and had fooled itself into thinking that its time had come. The expensive recruits were failing to deliver, technology needed big investment and cultural tensions between the warring tribes had to be settled.
Nevertheless, I learned the rudiments of equity analysis and carved a niche out for myself specialising in Scandinavian banks at a time when they were recovering from collapse. I took this specialisation with me first to Schroders and then to Credit Suisse, widening it out into other European markets along the way. I became a top 3 ranked analyst in the banks sector according to Institutional Investor magazine and was made a managing director of Credit Suisse, one of the youngest in my cohort.
In 2006 I left Credit Suisse to join Lansdowne Partners, one of the oldest long/short hedge funds in Europe. It made a splash in the FT:
At Lansdowne, I worked as part of a small group managing a global financials fund, starting just as the global financial crisis was getting stoked. My reminiscences of that period are the subject of a blog post here. Although a testing time, we navigated the crisis pretty well – the fund was up 56% over the three years 2007-09 and assets under management grew to just over US$4 billion. At the beginning of 2010 we won the Eurohedge long-term performance award for equity strategies.
The work was great. I worked alongside some of the smartest people in the industry and travelled the world in the hunt for investment ideas. Ultimately though the twin forces of heightened regulation and low interest rates squeezed the demand for a financials-only equity product and we wound the fund up in 2016.
I’d never done an MBA and the idea of going back to school always appealed. So I spent a year back in full time education at the London Business School, explaining why in a blog post here. During the year I had the opportunity to meet Warren Buffett in Omaha. A lot was covered. But this stuck:
“You should be learning all the time from what’s around you. I don’t think you can be as wise about people at 20 as you can be at 50… You need a lot of human experiences to improve your insights. Success or failure when you’re 70 or 80 will depend a lot more on what you learned about other people, and about yourself in the process.”
This blog is an exercise in learning from what’s around me. I also publish the weekly Net Interest newsletter focused on financial themes, but this blog is more general. Channelling Richard Feynman, it consists of a series of “approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things”.