A flippant, fearless, and fundamental countdown of big money investing.

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Art by Chris Buzelli

#13 Your Team

“You Can’t Win With Just a Good Plan”

Three years ago, Britt Harris told the story of his career to CIO as the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree. While the account ranged over every part of a CIO’s job, from culture to asset allocation to manager selection, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ CIO pointed to one aspect as the “key to everything”: the people you work with. As he wrote at the time:

“I began in the consolidated account department of Texas Utilities—not the place you would probably look first for a CIO candidate. What I did have, that many others didn’t, was the opportunity to work with highly professional men who set a good example for me of what a professional looks like and how he conducted himself and treated others.

Then, a day came when the men I worked for decided to create a holding company and consolidate several subsidiaries into a single enterprise. A pension fund emerged with a consolidated value of around $300 million. This figure was too small to be assigned to anyone truly important in the firm but too large to completely ignore. In other words, it was just right for a young guy like me.

It was very clear that I knew very little at that time, but each morning I would prepare to hear whatever investment ideas would be presented that day. During each day, I would listen carefully to every story and every idea. Then I would review them on the way home. Every day, of every week, for three years.

Since then, I have managed several funds, and I have been blessed by each opportunity. Combustion Engineering, Asea Brown Boveri, GTE, Verizon—everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been surrounded by challenges, opportunities, and great people.

In order to implement a plan competently and effectively, we have to attract and retain extremely capable people, give them a healthy and professional culture, provide proper financial incentives (in a way that rewards performance and is aligned with the best interests of your customer), give them the resources and training they need, and then help them stay on track by expecting exceptional results and consistency of behavior with our agreed cultural norms.

People are the key to everything. The wrong ones create all your problems, and the right ones save you from all your problems. You can’t win with just a good plan. You need good people who are true professionals to help execute that plan well.”

Read the full account, “Britt Harris’ Return on Luck.”

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