I was never interested in becoming a chemist. I wanted to go to Oxford. The university offered very few vocational courses, but I wanted to have some time at a great institution to develop and grow up. In the UK it’s quite common for employees to come from disparate academic backgrounds. It‘s widely recognised that universities are really an opportunity for you to learn how to think, argue and analyse – much-needed skills in the work place. I think chemistry provided a good background for investing as it requires numerical and analytical skills. I was interested in the markets from a young age and did some vacation work with a financial services firm in the city when I was a student. My first position in investments was with the Mitsui Trust, a Japanese asset management business. The Japanese are very good at training their employees so the first three years of my career were essentially learning the ropes of investing. During this period I did the CFA qualification, so that was really an opportunity for me to get a decent grounding in financial markets and analysis.
I think the most liberating thing about working at Investec is the level of trust you enjoy and the freedom to build your own franchise. It’s not as though I’ve been plugging away at the same thing for the last 24 years. I have had a number of positions at Investec Asset Management which enabled me to significantly grow different areas of our business. I spent five years in Cape Town helping to build the specialist fixed income business and other people have taken it to bigger and better places since I left. Helping to develop our emerging market fixed income capability in the UK, has also been very satisfying. I now have an opportunity to develop a multi-asset income franchise or sub-capability, which I think has got massive potential. I’m actually at the early stages of a whole new chapter.
My background has been much more orientated towards fixed income across a broad area such as government bonds, corporate bonds and emerging market debt. But I’ve had exposure to a multi-asset environment for a number of years. It’s been a learning curve for me, but I have been surrounded by people with depth of experience.
Part of the excitement is that we have a lot more choice and flexibility than pure fixed income strategies offer. We have enjoyed a 35-year bond bull market until fairly recently. It may now be at an end. It’s been great to be part of that, but a multi-asset opportunity set gives you a much greater potential to actually meet clients’ needs because you have such a wide range of choices. A multi-asset universe offers significant flexibility to make material changes to portfolios over time and the potential to diversify risk more efficiently.
The last 27 years have been anything but boring. Spending time in South Africa was an exciting chapter for me. It was during this time that we highlighted that Statistics South Africa had miscalculated inflation. We got a lot of press from that.
It doesn’t happen very often in your career that you can point out a mistake that government has made and have it corrected. That’s definitely memorable. Throughout my career there have been many market ups and downs. Some of these have been scary and others exciting, but fundamentally they create opportunities for active managers to make money for their clients. So even the 1994 bond bear market, which was quite early in my career, was memorable. It was a shocking event at the time, but it was the last major bear market that we have had in probably the last 20 years in developed markets. It set the stage for bonds to rally for a protracted period of time.
Emerging markets have also delivered a lot of excitement – in South Africa and more broadly. The opportunity set has got much bigger in terms of fixed income, equities, currencies and the countries in which you can invest. We’ve been through a pretty extraordinary period post-2008, with monetary authorities adopting unconventional policies such as quantitative easing and negative interest rates. But these challenges have brought opportunities. So it’s been an interesting ride.
I try not to get too caught up in the short term. There are bad days and there are good days. I try and remember the message in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, about “…meet[ing] with Triumph and Disaster And treat[ing] those two imposters just the same…” When you have a bad day, you may feel you’re hopeless and when you have a good day, you may feel like a genius. You need to guard against letting things affect you too much. It’s important to have a bigger perspective and focus more on the medium to longer term. That’s sometimes hard because clients are often very focused on the short term. Maintaining a disciplined approach to investing is crucial as it provides a much-needed anchor when times are tough.
I enjoy spending time with my family. I have been married for close to 24 years. My two children are not interested in financial markets, so when I’m at home, we talk about other things. It makes it easier to switch off from work. We recently moved to Oxford. My wife’s from there and we both love the city. We go to the theatre, museums and cafes and go walking with our dogs – it’s a wonderful urban lifestyle. I also try and cycle when the weather is good. Reading and travelling are other passions of mine.
John is Head of Multi-Asset Income at Investec Asset Management. He is lead portfolio manager on our multi-strategy income portfolios and participates in the wider management of our multi-asset strategies. During his time at the firm, John has held senior positions as Co-Head of Fixed Income & Currency, having previously been responsible for the management of our South African fixed income assets from 1998 to 2004.
John joined Guinness Flight in 1993, which was later acquired by Investec Asset Management, and took responsibility for investments in emerging bond and currency markets. Previously, he worked in London and Tokyo as a specialist global bond and currency portfolio manager for Mitsui Trust Asset Management.
John graduated from the University of Oxford with an honours degree in Chemistry in 1990 and he is a CFA Charterholder.
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