It all started in a pub, writes Eleanor Mahmoud. Not the imminent increase in my waistline after all these lunches (although on second thoughts, probably that too). Rather, John Hair’s career in investment management started thanks to his uncle and a humble pub in London in the early 1990s.
Today we are meeting at The Kings Stores, located somewhere in between the City and Spitalfields market. Hair has already set the tone by waiting for me with a pint, so I swiftly follow suit with a cider and ask him how his first year as Standard Life Wealth’s chief investment officer (CIO) is going.
‘The first year in this role has been great,’ he begins. ‘I love investments; many CIO roles increasingly have a large governance focus, but my colleague Caroline Tye handles that, so I have been very lucky that I can focus on investment strategy and portfolio management.’
Having been promoted to CIO almost a year ago, Hair is certainly no new face at Standard Life Wealth – he’s essentially been at the same company for over 20 years. In the midst of the recession in the early 1990s and struggling to find a job, his aforementioned uncle offered an eager Hair a job packing envelopes at Henderson. He then moved to its dealing desk, later to Newton and then, following the acquisition of its private client business, to Standard Life Wealth.
After the friendly waiter takes our order – Hair opts for a pulled pork burger and I go with a steak sandwich – I ask Hair where he is from as I can’t quite place his accent, to which I discover his fascinating upbringing. Born in Edinburgh but brought up in Zimbabwe and South Africa, he came to London after graduating. In fact, he studied at the only university in South Africa which allowed black and white students to learn together.
Living in that part of the world at a pivotal point in its history most likely contributed to the open-minded outlook Hair has today. As we get stuck into lunch, we also get stuck into the world of thematic investing.
‘Thematic investing is about buying into how the world is changing. On that front, I think we have a very interesting forward-looking investment model.’
Hair goes on to explain how his team of 12 are doing a lot of work refreshing their themes at the moment. With 11 of the team working on investments, it seems there are plenty of hands on deck. I ask him to expand on some specific areas of interest for them:
‘Disruption, while not a new theme, is huge. Think about how Amazon disrupted the marketplace. That’s only going to continue evolving and emerging in other industries.’
‘Medical technology is a fascinating area,’ Hair continues. ‘There are about 2,000 immuno oncology trials going on, for example. While I am unsure which company will have the dominant superior long-term drug, it is easier to identify companies supplying medical technology devices, such as stents, that are improving the quality of life for an aging population.’
No investment opportunity comes without potential pitfalls though and a common issue with thematic investing is surely how you measure it.
‘It is very difficult to directly attribute how a company has benefited from them; indeed many of our companies have multiple themes. The value themes add is that they allow you to focus on the long-term investment case – a timely reminder given the short-term market noise we experience every day.’
Glass half full
‘The remarkable rise of the passive strategy – the current trend to allocate capital based on size will provide plenty of opportunities for global stock pickers.’
Glass half empty
‘Broker notes – eight pages of text, but only one page of actual research!’
Contact Eleanor if you're up for a pub club yourself - email her on firstname.lastname@example.org