A common trap for people starting out in the business world is to think that they can do it all by themselves. Think of the great Olympians. Swimmers, long distance runners, decathletes, celebrated for winning individual glory. But none of them really did it alone. For every successful athlete there’s an entourage of trainers, doctors, managers, sponsors, you name it. All of them carefully selected to work well together and achieve the best results. It’s a principle that applies in sport, in business, in life. Don’t just take my word for it; look up Warren Buffett. It’s worked pretty well for him.
We’re fortunate now to live in an age where his wealth of wisdom is instantly available at a click. There’s even a delightful cartoon series in which he teaches a group of school kids about business and finance. For all his specific and highly qualified advice on business and wealth accumulation, however, it’s often his more generic life advice that strikes the biggest chord. To do well in business you have to have a core set of values and principles that underpin all you do. He has often said that life’s most important decision is who you marry.
“You want to associate with people who are the kind of person you’d like to be. You’ll move in that direction,” he once told Bill Gates.
In fact, much of Buffett’s best advice centers around the people we surround ourselves with. Mix with people beneath your level, he reasons, and you’ll be dragged down, whereas associating with those who are ‘better’ will challenge, motivate and inspire you.
Success doesn’t happen in a silo
Speaking to some of Australia’s top investors, a common thread that unites them is their belief in the team environment, finding the right blend of people and knowing how best to work with them.
Andrew Clifford, CEO and CIO of Platinum Asset Management, is brutally honest about what held him back in his early days.
“We started this as a group of people who understood investing,” he says.
“We’d never actually worked out how you engage in this investment process as a group of people. It was all like, go find me this stock, and come back and tell me about it, and we’ll have a discussion about it because we wanted to keep searching for ideas and having a debate.
“We managed money really well, but may not have managed people particularly well. If I’d understood in my mid-20s that you actually do need to manage people, and had learned those skills, I would have been a lot further ahead.”
Personality and experience count equally
Having a clear idea of the kinds of personnel you want on your team can save a lot of difficulties later on. Unusually for John Murray, Managing Director, Perennial Value, inexperience was an asset. “I wanted to bring together a small group of people that didn’t have any experience in funds management,” he says. “I didn’t want to bring on anyone that had any preconceived ideas of how we should invest – I wanted to start from scratch, with a new template, in terms of people.”
Teams determine direction
Even when choosing which investments to make, a crucial part of the research component is carefully examining the people behind the companies you wish to invest in.
Tribeca Investment Partners portfolio manager Jun Bei Liu says some investors will even follow strong management teams if they move companies.
“You need to do a lot of research into management; understand how they think and look at their track record. The success of a business comes down to people and systems – the systems are really there to assist the people,” she says.
Constantly honing your people skills to become a better communicator will give you a massive edge over those who are all about individualism. I remember having something of an epiphany shortly after completing my studies, that none of it had prepared me for managing people. I have since spent my life learning, researching and seeking out experts to learn from. And consistently, throughout this journey, people have taught me that the relationships you build are at the center of success.
Brett Kelly is the author of Investment Wisdom, featuring interviews with leading Australian money managers on what it takes to be an excellent custodian of other people’s wealth in any market. He is the founder and CEO of Kelly+Partners Chartered Accountants, the ASX-listed largest private business specialist accounting network in the greater Sydney area. Investment Wisdom is now available at booktopia.kh4ffx.net/yYqGb