Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review - Education of a Value Investor

We live in a categorized, check box kind of world, so Guy Spier's "Education of a Value Investor" is bound to be sitting on a shelf in the Business/Investment category at Barnes & Noble right next to the numerous How To investing guides. But this is not a How To book, its a personal journey of discovery and value investing as conducted by Buffett, Munger, and Pabrai is a North star on this journey.

I received the book today and read it in one go, I suspect others will have a similar experience; find a quiet place and a comfortable chair - Guy Spier's story, told warts and all, pulls you in. Its hard to imagine rooting for a  self admitted Gordon Gekko type, but when he eventually starts to get it and figure out the bigger picture, and helps the reader learn from his own travails its easy to get behind Guy Spier's journey.

The book plainly isn't about the mechanics of investing, there are lots of books that covers these. The main theme is much more fundamental - make sure you spend as much of your time as possible with high quality people. One of my mentors in my own career advised you should always take at least one job in your career simply because of the people you would work with at that company. Guy Spier has sort of adopted this and expanded so its not about one job but a core operating philosophy. He cites a numerous second and third order powerful obliquities that arose out of this mode of operating.

There is another unexpected theme along this journey - gratitude. One of the most compelling parts of the book to me is the description of Guy Spier's devotion to the small, thoughtful kindness of writing thank you notes. To many people. This has the effect of both touching other people and ensuring that you are accounting for what you have received. These are important lessons not to lose sight of in today's world.

Friendships, people, gratitude - there are large parts of the book that are more like a self improvement book, and Guy Spier points to Tony Robbins' and others influences. Lots of people have benefitted from their work to improve their own productivity, health and personally develop, but Guy Spier shows exactly how this plays out in financial markets and in investor psychology which is a unique contribution, especially due to his transparent writing. Its a brave effort to put his mistakes on display and to share the journey at this level.

Value investing is almost like its own character in the book, and in the beginning of his career, Spier is as far from that concept as you could be, but by the end he has fully embraced and internalized the concepts.

Practically speaking there are number of good lessons, too. Spier's discussion of moving his practice from New York to Zurich goes into some detail about his thought process on designing the new space. There is a hard separation between the computer, Bloomberg busy room and a quiet library for reading with no computers. It struck me that Kahneman might call them System 1 room and System 2 room.

Spier stresses the importance of checklists and shares the key insight that checklists are not to tell you what to do, checklists are critical as a mistake avoidance tool. He includes a helpful way to think about processing investment ideas - do your own research first and then read news and other things about companies. Don't be led in by news or analyst reports because your susceptible to seeing things through their lens.

The overall theme is personal growth and connecting on a deeper level with great people (living and dead(through books)) they will help you discover vital things you can't on your own. The personal theme is to be true to yourself, do your research first, or as I say - outsource execution if you want, but never outsource strategy. Guy Spier writes that the "path to true success is through authenticity"and on this measure the book is a Peter Lynch ten bagger.

The real gem is the insight that value investing principles can go well beyond making money in the stock market; Guy Spier shows how value investing principles can be applied to enrich your personal life.

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