The Blessings Of Mentorship
I recently received a very kind email from our this year’s intern, Joshua. His experience was different than that of many of his predecessors that we hosted over the years. He was our remote intern working from his home. His words of appreciation for what he had learned with us made me think of my mentors, who blessed me with their generosity over the last two decades.
It was a little over 16 years ago; I just got my first Manhattan investment job. I was to shadow a seasoned investment advisor whose regular articles I had been reading for a while. I settled in at my desk; I had my computer and phone set up; I was eager and ready to start. The catch was that my boss and mentor was about to leave town for a while: “Welcome aboard. Email me, call me, I’m off.” – he said with a smile as he jetted out the front door after my welcome lunch earlier that week. That’s how I started my long apprenticeship with our dear François Sicart all those years ago.
I soon learned that some 35 years earlier, he benefited from a great mentorship. He learned from Mr. Christian Humann and his senior partners, who, on the other hand, gained their experience in the last years of the 1920s historic bull market and hard years of the Great Depression post the 1929 market crash.
Here I was in early 2005, excited and grateful for the opportunity. I had no way of knowing at the time, but I’m well aware now that I was about to embark on a life-changing 16 year-long mentorship that inspired a fulfilling career in the world of family wealth investing.
In his absence, Patsy Jaganath took me under her wings. I had a lot to learn beyond the dry academic investment theory that I acquired until that point and the historical knowledge I devoured reading every possible investment book I could find. Soon after, I got to know Allen Huang, who gained his experience under the tutelage of an avid stock picker, and Mr. Sicart’s earlier partner, Jean-Pierre Conreur.
I feel blessed that I’m still able to rely on their wisdom and experience. Five years ago, the four of us became equal partners in our shared venture – Sicart Associates, a boutique investment firm. We have been fortunate enough to have Diandra Ramsammy help run the office from the start, and Delphine Chevalier has continued to help us navigate the time zones from Paris. Soon after that, a good friend, and a co-worker from our earlier careers, Doug Rankin, joined us as a portfolio manager.
Looking back over those many years, I think of the importance of mentorship. My mentors haven’t always been close or around. These unique “remote” mentorships gave me both an opportunity to learn and the independence to grow on my own. With Mr. Sicart’s blessing, I met Mr. James (Jay) E. Hughes, Jr., who has spent his career working with prominent families around the world in his role of a true homme de confiance.
Although Mr. Hughes and I have rarely been in the same place at the same time, with the help of video calls, we have held regular monthly conversations for many years now. Mr. Sicart shared with me his lessons in navigating the markets while managing family fortunes over half a century. Mr. Hughes opened my eyes to a particular role we can aspire to have in the lives of families we are blessed to work with.
Some mentors have been in my life for many years, while others made a lasting impression at the moment in time, but whose impact still shapes my thinking and actions.
In college, professor Jacek Grzywacz taught me the foundations of finance and banking. He was also my thesis supervisor when I was getting my master’s degree. I wrote about the future of the euro versus the dollar; he quizzed me about the three C’s of credit: capacity, character, and collateral.
The summer between my Warsaw education, and my Paris graduate program, during a summer school in Prague, Czech Republic, I met an American economist, professor Peter Boettke. My class was a bit unusual. It consisted almost entirely of students from the former Soviet Bloc. We all had fresh memories of the failings of a state-owned, controlled command economy. Professor Boettke was an expert on the topic and a follower of the Austrian School of Economics — the exact opposite of the Soviet socialist economic thought. He didn’t have to convince us that a free market economy produces superior outcomes. I greatly appreciated his sharp, clear mind and the ability to defend his arguments in a playful yet convincing way. I often think of him writing my articles these days.
I met many great professors in my French grad school. Many of them had spent decades pursuing careers in New York City and came back to run or start businesses in Paris while teaching at my school. I found their transatlantic perspective very intriguing. I thought that they had a way of combining European sensibilities with the American entrepreneurial spirit. They knew how to find patterns, answers, logic in an increasingly complex world. I trust that some of their wisdom and experience rubbed off on me.
There were many mentors and inspiring people I met since then; some gave me an idea, a direction, some pointed me toward new opportunities. In New York City, I met Eric Rock, and Max Alvarez, who introduced me to the world of public speaking. In California, I got to know Flora Wong, a very passionate TEDx host. I had a memorable conversation over lunch at a mountaintop restaurant with Guy Spier (renowned author and value investor). I had an unforgettable time visiting Tony Deden (another prominent investor) in Zurich and sharing a meal with his team. Shortly before the 2008 housing bubble burst, I was fortunate enough to attend an intimate investor meeting hosted by Mohnish Pabrai (an inspiring investor, author, and philanthropist). The list goes on.
I don’t know if you choose your mentors or they choose you; I think it might be a little bit of both.
With remote work reshaping our office life these days, I wouldn’t despair that we can’t have daily lunches with our mentors. A good number of my mentors have been remote for most of my career. I am grateful for the role they have played in my life. I believe that if you keep an open mind, stay curious; anyone can find generous minds out there that will be more than happy to impart their wisdom to you.
I try to play my part. Over the years, I greatly enjoyed many conversations with interns who joined us every year for a few months. They come from various corners of the world and bring their own unique perspective. Even this peculiar year, when we are still figuring out the post-COVID work models, we hosted a remote intern, Joshua, who I mentioned earlier. We had our regular Zooms. He was learning by doing, tackling new investment questions each week. I trust I gave him enough independence to figure it out on his now and enough guidance to keep him on the right path, the same way my mentors have done for me over the years, and I intend to do for decades to come.
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