A few years back, I would occasionally be asked to appear on a cable news show to discuss my views on the Asian markets. Asian specialists were somewhat rare in New York City at the time, and demand for my point of view, especially following dramatic events (earthquakes, currency crises, etc.) ran high. Once I remember speaking with the young woman who was applying make-up to the guests of the show. As I surveyed her array of colored powders, brushes, sponges and other paraphernalia, I was interested in how she got this job. Somewhere during the course of the explanation, she said something memorable, “This is what I do; it’s not who I am.”
I have considered this statement over the years and I think it has profound implications. First, not everyone “is the job.” There are a lot people who view their jobs just as something to do to earn money, keep out of trouble, pass the time, etc. These individuals no doubt maximize their personal utility by doing other things, such as hobbies, forms of entertainment, spending time with friends and family, and so forth. The stereotypical actor/waiter is a classic example of this. The person is an actor, but is working as a waiter.
Second, does a person who “is the job” make a better employee? I suspect that most managers would say “yes.” Someone who lives (and loves) to work at the job of his/her choice must be a pleasure to have on board. That level of commitment is the essence behind the “think like an owner” concept. Still, I wonder if someone that committed can really find the balance, which seems so important in life. I have seen many sad endings to people who could only find satisfaction in the workplace.
This brings us back to me (it’s my blog, after all…). One of the nice things about growing older is the feeling of increased self awareness. I think I know myself much better now than I did 20 years ago. And as it pertains to this blog and my career, I know that I am a value investor. I may have been this way my whole life, but working on Wall Street and investing in the stock market has solidified this understanding. I may lack the skills of Warren Buffett, John Neff, or any of my investment heroes, but I know that deep down we are all cut from the same bolt of cloth.
Throughout my career I have filled many positions, have had many jobs, but each time I approached the tasks at hand as a value investor. I love buying or recommending stocks at a big discount to their fair value. It seems so basic and simple to me, but most people I speak to struggle with the concept. We love to buy “things” on sale – clothes, cars, computers, etc. But when it comes to stocks, people generally want to buy the ones that have gone up the most – those that are expensive [by “expensive” I mean highly valued, not those with a high dollar value – a stock trading at $100 is not more “expensive” than one trading at $20 to the value investor]. This tendency makes the concept of “stocks on sale” hard to grasp by the average person. Many people spend a great deal of time and effort trying to fit in. The value investor does the exact opposite. We constantly search for the less-traveled path.
Sometimes it’s a lonely exercise, but in my experience, it’s well worth the effort. Recently, a junior colleague of mine, obviously puzzled by my lack of apparent enthusiasm for a happy development in my family asked, “Goodson, what do you get excited about?” With only a split second of thought I answered, “Generating alpha.” That is, I enjoy beating the market. Always have. Hope I always will. That is who I am.