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Sub-advisor Spotlight: At Mawer, A Meditative Mind

Posted Oct 13, 2017, 12:57 PM | By MD

MD’s global sub-advisors are hired for their investment philosophy, asset management expertise, investment research, innovation and, above all, their great people. In this series, we’ll introduce you to a few of the faces behind our funds, pools and portfolios.

mawerSuccessful investment firms depend on a steadfast research team: honest thinkers who crunch numbers, ask questions, make sense of company and industry trends and help us decide how best to invest.

At Mawer Investment Management Inc. (pronounced moh-er), sub-advisor for our MD International Growth Fund and the MDPIM International Equity Pool, Ong (Apichet) Kiatworakun is among the international equity analysts who embody his firm’s independent, “boots on the ground” approach to research across geographic markets.

Kiatworakun grew up in Thailand and worked for a global investment bank in that country prior to immigrating to Canada in 2011 to become a graduate student at Vancouver’s UBC. After earning an MBA at the UBC Sauder School of Business, he eventually landed his dream job as an equity analyst for Mawer’s international equity team, based in Calgary.

“I looked across many investment management companies in Canada and talked to many people. The more I learned about Mawer and its investment philosophy, the more I thought it jibed with what I believed in,” says Kiatworakun, who is also a Chartered Financial Analyst.

Mawer has trademarked the phrase: “Be Boring. Make Money.” The company is privately owned, employs over 130 people and serves individual and institutional investors. It says it ignores fads, takes a long-term view and sticks to a systematic, disciplined, bottom-up investment approach, no matter the market outlook.

Making money and the meditative mind

Mawer’s measured approach seems to perfectly suit the personality of a soft-spoken man who practices daily meditations in the traditions of his Thai Buddhist culture.

Like many youth in Thailand, he spent time as a monk in a meditation retreat.

“Meditation helps you to calm your mind. In investing, you want to be as objective as possible when you evaluate an idea. You want to be less emotional on a company or on a management team; less emotional when something happens to one of your holdings, whether there's bad news or good news. You don't want to follow the trend. Meditation helps to slow your mind, keep it calm, to keep it more objective. I think it really helps in my job,” says Kiatworakun.

From Calgary to Singapore, local knowledge goes global

In early 2016, Kiatworakun relocated from the Calgary head office to Singapore, and is currently among the research personnel in Mawer’s expanded, five-person Singapore office. The company has had a presence there since 2013, when portfolio manager Peter Lampert relocated for two years to deepen the firm’s research and investment capabilities in Asia.

For the Mawer international equity team, understanding the country and cultural context of each company it invests in is as important as understanding its financials.

Kiatworakun says the location provides the analysts more opportunity to meet face-to-face with management teams from Germany, Switzerland and across Asia, in a destination that many multinationals favour for their regional headquarters.

The job in Singapore was a valuable professional opportunity that also allowed Kiatworakun to achieve a personal milestone: after four years of nurturing a long-distance relationship with his wife, between Canada and Thailand, the couple reunited. (They had studied at UBC at the same time, but she had returned to Thailand for a job after graduation).

A team-based approach

At many firms, equity analysts cover companies in one specific sector, but this is not the case at Mawer, explains colleague Rob Campbell, Institutional Portfolio Manager in Mawer’s Toronto office.

“We train our people to become generalists, to be able to think across the portfolio, and not just one sector,” he says.

For Kiatworakun and his peers, it means freedom to investigate ideas and companies across regions, company size and industries in an environment where every opinion can be considered based on merit—not on a person’s tenure or experience.

“You can debate ideas more objectively,” says Kiatworakun. “It removes a bias towards any particular sector or thinking that you might have better knowledge than someone else in a particular industry. When you work as a generalist, everyone contributes as a team.”

A 300% investment return—then a life lesson in risk

Kiatworakun credits his career choice to his early success—and then failure—as an investor.

During his second year of undergrad studies at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Kiatworakun got a tip from a finance professor and bought shares of a Thai coal company, using his modest personal savings.

“I made a 300% return on the first investment of my life. I didn’t know much about how to analyse companies back then; I just believed what [the teacher] told me. It was very exciting for a kid at the time,” says Kiatworakun.

But the kicker came next time when he acted on “can’t lose” stock advice from a university pal new to the brokerage industry: “I lost quite a bit on that one,” he laughs, in retrospect.

“That’s when I could see that what I was doing at the time wasn’t much different than buying a lotto ticket,” says Kiatworakun.

It sparked his interest to pursue a career as an investment professional, learn more about companies, and discover different investment philosophies, including those of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and Philip Fisher, among others.

An objective in investing, he says, is not to pick “winners” or pick the right companies, but to understand competitive advantages that might prevent a company from the risk of losing business to its competitors—so as to not lose money for investors.

Just as meditation can help one achieve mindfulness and insight, investment discipline focuses the mind on the one thing that should drive every decision:

“It’s always to do the right thing for our clients,” he says.

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