Conversations are great teachers, especially in the investing field where there are no real textbooks, where theory and practice constantly diverge, and where folklore is invaluable when authentic. The drift in every conversation can be dramatically different, depending on who you are engaging with.
Conversations between marketmen will inevitably lead to stocks. When you talk stocks, it inevitably leads one to past situations. And it is only natural that one tends to recount old tales. Slowly, the talk will test one’s vintage in the market. And vintage will get established by events and one’s own positions at that time.
Tell a young investor about the Morgan Stanley IPO or the GDR (global depository receipt) rush of 1993-94, the odds of hearing “Sir, I was a toddler” are probably closer to one and almost bordering on certainty. And what else can you feel but old? There simply is no escaping vintage if you have been investing for long.
The most interesting investment pursuit is to seek out vintage. We all want to hear from those who have been there before or seen it all. The Berkshire Hathaway annual general meeting is the most obvious seeking out of vintage. Even though most people will probably know everything that is said by the world’s most vintage investment duo, investors love hearing it from them. It brings back that grandpa moment to most investors.
They kind of feel healed, or should I say soaked, in avuncular wisdom. The fact that wisdom is mostly what you already know hardly matters when it comes with the right vintage. So, the crowds of people waiting from wee hours to get into the Berkshire AGM will only keep growing and reinforce the power of vintage.
Vintage is also a great marketing tool.
“I meet Damani ji every time I go to Mumbai. We have a very small group that sticks to itself,” is the cheesiest line I heard in a long while. Too embarrassed to ask which Mr Damani he was implying, you can only conclude that the man saying this wants you to know he is of the right vintage. He expects you to suitably respect him by duly telling him everything you know (and probably don’t too) which can make him buy winning stocks.
Lead the conversation onto investing and you will soon realise that he has little to really say. Most of his years in market may well have been gathering ideas from everywhere. And vintage must have helped him gather loads of ideas by dropping the right names. Lunch or drinks (even if it is just Cherry coke) with even bigger names is a bigger marketing tool, but let’s save it for another time.
Vintage still has its merits. It helps older investors like me improve engagement. It takes me back in time, reminds me how stupid I was doing what I did and helps me get it out one more time. Young, bright investors who seek me out help me keep in touch with how they live, earn, spend, work and grow. This probably may not happen as much if they didn’t seek out my own limited vintage. The inevitable part of vintage engagement is to recollect and narrate old tales in an engaging manner.
When you bring alive investment tales from the past, it helps you learn from your experiences. As you tell a story from the past, the questions that keep flowing from your listeners make you wonder aloud and often be exasperated with something you did or failed to do. Cathartic as it may be, it is also easily the most therapeutic.
So, active smart play of one’s raconteur skills can actually help square up with the past and live in humble harmony with one’s own inadequacies. Once you square up, you can even start learning from those who seek to learn from you. Such interactions mostly leave you richer knowing where the future is headed. Surely, there can’t be a more powerful privilege of vintage than that.
The most important thing about growing old or sharing one’s experiences is that it creates tremendous engagement. That engagement is the best opportunity to think young again. It gives you a chance to ask very young investors powerful questions. And those questions lead you to a whole new world. Now you know why legends like Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger constantly engage with very young people.
Everybody has important lessons to learn from very young minds. When you engage with people who are the future, they lead you on to how the future will be. How else can a 90-year-old bet on electric vehicles? Or, for that matter, what Apple can do next to change the world?
Vintage inevitably reminds one of spirits. Nothing helps raise the value of a wine or spirit more than vintage. But, there is a way in which the vintage is curated, preserved and grown.
Vintage in investing must be handled exactly the same way; it must be used responsibly. It must be put to good use, brought out to play rightly and must help raise the animal spirits in an investor to the extent it does him good.
Cheers to your years in the markets! Make it so long that the markets always leave you feeling every bit the bon vivant!(Shyam Sekhar is chief ideator and founder, iThought. Views are personal)