Deep expertise is essential in investment management, but operating in silos limits potential investment outcomes. Here are some examples of how we learn as a team—and why failing is as important as succeeding.
Mike: Hi everybody. Mike Corcoran here with Institutional Investor. We’re joined today by Ken McAtamney, Ken is partner and head of the global equity team and a portfolio manager for William Blair’s International Growth, Global Leaders, International Leaders, and Emerging Market Leaders Strategies. We’re talking about how an active mindset can help drive outcomes. Ken, I wonder if we could talk a little bit now about that environment itself. How do you go about creating a learning environment where people can come together and put together all the insights?
Ken: So, we try to do quite a few different things and activities that will encourage group learning, individual learning, and the socialization of the investment process.
So, in the investment profession, a lot of us have specialized roles. Portfolio manager, research analyst, trader, whatever it might be. We need that specialization, we need that level of dedicated expertise.
But to get the best outcomes, investing in silos or those narrow specializations probably will limit our ability to have investing success. We think to optimize investment success, we need to encourage everyone to work together and to learn together. You really need to create an environment where you can get the most of those diverse perspectives.
So we do a lot of things like create learning pods, where the function is just to get together occasionally, a group of people who might not work in that same respective silos to get together and talk about investment issues or problems, or brainstorm about ideas, things that are going on in the economy, in the market that we want to tackle. Try to break down the barriers that exist and really get us thinking there.
We also rotate people around frequently from function to function, so they get cross trained but they also can share their perspective in a way or in a group setting that they might not ordinarily do. What we try to do is rather than have individual one-on-one apprenticeships or mentorships, we try to do it in a much more collaborative way, where it’s really groups of people helping each other out and everybody taking accountability for the training and development of the next generation of investors on our team.
Mike: It sounds like there’s a lot of, you go to great lengths to encourage teamwork, sort of embedded into the process.
Ken: What we want and expect from our senior teammates, our senior partners, is that they take some responsibility for this, they take real ownership of it and make it comfortable, frankly, for people at all levels to voice their perspectives, to voice their opinions, and frankly to make mistakes, to fail and learn. If you’re not falling down, you’re not learning. So, our focus is really on creating a learning environment where we know full well that we’re going to trip and fall occasionally as we’re making predictions about the future. That’s okay. What we really need to do is embrace it, make it okay, and create a culture where it’s all about learning, it’s all about getting better, and frankly having fun in the process.
Mike: I wonder if maybe you could just give us a few examples of some of the things that you do to engender this sort of teamwork?
Ken: As international investors we spend a lot of time traveling around the world, and we go to countries and regions to get to know not just the companies but the cultures that those companies operate in. It’s really a fundamental part of our research and investment process.
What we’ve tried to do is have intentional group travel, and by that I mean, figure out what problem that we’d like to solve, or where we think there could be some great benefit of our collaborative learning and pull together a group from multiple different disciplines within our team, and task them to go to a region and see what we can learn.
We’ve done that in places like India and China, for example, which are really interesting, dynamic growth areas, but also complex from a cultural standpoint, from a corporate structure standpoint. It’s really beneficial that they bring those perspectives together to research these companies together. A secondary benefit is just the socialization that goes on there, when you’re building bridges and building relationships by virtue of being on the road together.
We think those will help create the underpinnings of a really collaborative culture.
Mike: When we continue talking with Ken, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to create a discipline around creativity and innovation that investors look for.