Understanding the Enemy

There was a slight hint of Spring this week. The evenings have a bit of light in them. At the first hint of warmth, the pubs around Mayfair fill to overflowing as we Londoners come out of hibernation.

On the first warm evening, I caught up with my friend Dominic after over a year. Dominic who runs Thistledown Investment Management kindly bought me an overpriced drink at one of the drinking holes just off St James Square. He and I are polar opposite - he is ex-Army, old-school English who regularly wears a cravat. I am ex-Silicon Valley, view the world as a database and wear saris whenever the opportunity arises.

A hundred years ago it would have unthinkable for an Englishman and an Indian woman to find common ground in business interests. Their worlds were literally worlds apart. Because we are both on the value investor/ entrepreneur merry-go-round, Dominic and I often find ourselves at the same events. We face the same issues with regulation, market madness and working without a corporate mothership. It’s always useful to trade views and advice, as we each understand where the other one is coming from - at least investing-wise.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of My Lai. The US Army massacred more than five hundred Vietnamese villagers, believing they were exacting revenge on the Viet Cong enemy. I remember learning about it in school as a “bad” episode for the US Army. Yet, going through articles written in retrospect it seems like the US public was divided on who the heroes of the day were. Initially many were in support of the perpetrators and the army officer who helped bring the atrocities to an end faced death threats and isolation. Today he is considered a hero.

In the world of investing I commonly see this with people outside the world of finance. They view the finance industry as greedy and ineffective. The investment industry -- much like warfare, is driven by short-term survival. Those of us who try to think on a more long-term basis are rarities. The most surprising thing about focusing on investment education is the number of people in my financial industry network who want to sign up for my workshops. Although they might be experts in their areas of derivatives or indexes, they still need perspective on their personal investments.

So time and education. Perception and understanding. The secret to getting on with your investments. Hopefully, it won’t take another fifty years!