We’re told a lot these days about why capitalism has failed us. We’re told that greedy bankers and irresponsible CEOs need to be reined in with more stringent regulations and that wealth should be more aggressively redistributed. Perhaps. But greed can also be a vehicle to something deeper and more soulful.
You would have every right in the current international political and social climate to read these words, written by a very successful investment fund manager and struggle to take them in. I know I did. I almost felt as if the author was setting up an enormous challenge for himself to beat the general stigmas that surround fund managers and certainly I prepared myself to get to the end of his book and conclude that he’d failed.
But how wrong I was.
You can view The Education of a Value Investor (My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom and Enlightenment in a number of ways. Some may see it as an autobiography, how Guy Spier went from Oxford, to Harvard, to Wall Street, to taking in his own money and finally settling in the tranquility of Zurich. Others, as the blurb on the sleeve rightly highlights, may see it as a practical guide for anyone interested in the world of investing and for those determined to forge their own path within it. I certainly picked it up for both of those reasons, especially as we at Harneys have the honour of providing legal advice to the long-standing Aquamarine Fund. But in my humble opinion, this book’s reach is a great deal wider than this.
I can confidently (and slightly embarrassingly) say that ever since I left higher education, I have never felt the need or desire to start jotting down notes on anything I have been reading outside of work. Lawyers are largely trained to read things very quickly and sadly a little too efficiently, so a large amount of reading matter simply doesn’t properly soak in. Or maybe that’s just my aging brain which is saturated with useless football facts and Europop song lyrics from the 1990s. Yes, I’m looking at you Whigfield.
But I couldn’t stop myself writing things down whilst reading this book (which became an issue when I was supposed to be sleeping on an over-night flight for a meeting the next day), the messages coming out were so obvious and yet so subtle and most impressively, applied directly to my own personal outlook on life.
The road Guy has travelled to get to where he is today is a fascinating one and what makes it particularly compelling is that he is so brutally honest about the mistakes he has made along the way. Combined with that, he has pulled together a crystal clear analysis of his own fundamental faults that he has accepted are not resolvable and yet has found a way to almost use them to his advantage.
If you are remotely interested in our industry (and by the very fact you have decided to come along to our blog, means there must be something there), this is a must read. And frankly if you are in the value investment game, Chapters 10 (Investing Tools – building a better process) and 11 (An Investor’s Checklist – survival strategies from a surgeon) are almost biblical.
The interesting thing though is that Guy’s modesty would absolutely prevent him from saying that. His humble nature (which initially he felt was undoubtedly something to put in the background if he was ever going to be a success in the dog-eat-dog world) comes shining through during the book. His clear admiration for his “Heroes, Mentors and Role Models” goes to that aspect of his personality too.
I could waffle on about the effect this book had on me for hours, but have no desire to ruin it for his readers. But let me leave you with his final few concluding paragraphs, because clearly Guy is able to sum up his assumed philosophy far better than I can:
...Whichever route you choose, the goal is to become more self-aware, strip away the facades and listen to the interior... To achieve sustainable success, we need to confront our vulnerabilities, whatever they may be. Otherwise, we are building our success on a fragile structure that is ultimately liable to fall down. But the real reward of this inner transformation is not just enduring investment success. It’s the gift of becoming the best person we can be. That, surely, is the ultimate prize.
If that doesn’t resonate with you, I don’t know what will.