GUEST COMMENT: I have attended a positively mind-blowing class as part of my Masters at the London Business School

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(credit: markhillary)

Gabriel Chen is a Singaporean student at London Busines School and a former financial journalist for Singapore’s Straits Times. 

I recently wrapped up one of the best courses of my Masters in Finance at London Business School (LBS). Called Topics in Asset Management, it was taught by Robert Jenkins, an external member of the Interim Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England.

The schedule could be hectic as our meetings and case-study discussions were cramped in over one week, with sessions beginning in the morning and ending with dinner activities that ran late into the night.

Despite its intensity, the experience was mind blowing because the City of London financial professionals who visited our classes were disarmingly candid with their views. Given the interactive setting, the learning environment was top notch and made for great contact building.

We had hedge fund manager Norman Cumming watch us debate the pros and cons of the leveraged punt he advised Cambridge University’s Clare College to take during the throes of the financial crisis. Clare signed up for a 40-year inflation-linked loan in 2008 to invest in equities, betting that it would return more than inflation plus 1.09 per cent. Clare’s investment decision, unusual for an educational institution, still generates considerable controversy in the UK.

We also evaluated a presentation from senior representatives of Schroders Asset Management, who pitched a hypothetical scenario of a multi-asset fund for London Business School’s endowment portfolio.

I particularly enjoyed last Thursday’s events: Lawrence Howell told us why he left Citicorp to start EFG Private Banking, and we also heard from M&A advisory firm Evercore Partners’ Joe Chambers and activist investor Harlan Zimmerman. Lunch was with a T-Rowe Price fund manager, while dinner was at Investec Asset Management, where we were hosted by chief executive Hendrik du Toit. There were 14 LBS students and Jenkins at one end of the table; and at the other were du Toit and five members of his investment team.

It was fascinating to hear about the ambitions of the money manager, a unit of Anglo-South African bank Investec Group. What Investec Asset Management aspires to be – despite its success in the frontier economies of Africa – is a truly global manager. And it wants to do this by continuing to embrace a build-it-from-scratch mentality. Du Toit was there at the founding of Investec Asset Management in 1991 and the firm has since expanded globally, albeit via organic growth.

Even in this environment of potential opportunity with bank deleveraging and asset sales, organic is the way to go, Du Toit maintains. I found this persistent line of thinking to contrast so sharply with that of Aberdeen Asset Management, which has made nearly 20 acquisitions since 2001.

Decades down the road, the content from this class will become increasingly hazy. But I probably will remember the feelings of discovery, optimism, and exhilaration engendered by this unique and profound learning experience.