Steering Toward True North By Investing In Tomorrow’s Talent

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If you want to understand the direction any organization, enterprise or body of influence is taking, simply inquire as to the top three things they are currently investing in. Investment is one of the leading activities for most economic functions. Some technologies and products are able to be reverse-engineered or licensed, but most individuals and entities of the future are those who embrace first-mover advantage.

How are we investing in capital and labor? These are two very important inputs that help power our economy. Tracing back to centuries past, labor has arguably been one of the most essential components of the growth of any project or enterprise. And not just any labor, but talented and well-skilled labor. There is no doubt that the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed by an extremely advanced civilization. This eight-sided wonder is the most accurately aligned structure in the world in its relation to true north. It’s an extremely intriguing illustration of the level of investment, management, leverage and influence it must have taken to lead a talent pool toward this great feat.

When I enrolled in undergrad years ago, my original designation was The College of Engineering. I remember sitting in the computer lab during late nights, working on Pascal assignments and going to NSBE networking events; it was a lot of fun. Somewhere along the journey, my business acumen came into sharper focus and I eventually finished my degree in a business management curriculum, with other career interests at heart. It was great to start out that way because the seed of creativity, design and innovation was planted. When I think of capital as it relates to the rapidly changing professional climate, some of the greatest assets to any organization are intangible assets and the investment therein.

Investment in software, database development, research and development, product design, training, market research, branding and business process reengineering are a few examples of great avenues toward which to direct investment dollars. The return on investment may not be felt right away, but the eventual exponential impact could be massive. Dell Technologies surveyed 3,800 business leaders from around the world to get their pulse on the future of work. Mostly all of them expect transformative change at a very large scale. For example, the financial services industry is currently going through the biggest transformative event of its history. It is, in essence, The Great Decentralization. It’s exciting, concerning and intriguing to see parallel measures play out in many other industries as well.

Here are three fields of labor that will grow exponentially in the coming growth cycles, offering ways for industry executives to maximize this talent for their organization.

Mathematics And Actuarial Science: The way we measure and calculate intangible assets and valuations will continue to evolve. It will not be surprising to see accountants, statisticians, actuaries and futurists collaborating more regarding how the new math will directly and indirectly affect our planning, budgeting and forecasting. Organizations that staff their rosters with keen mathematical minds will see an increased advantage over their competitors.

Tech: The digital shift is not going away. It is our tomorrow, it is our today. The omnichannel experience will be a key driver of growth. The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, innovation and new product lines will continue to grow in demand. Organizations that maintain and invest in a sharp and cutting-edge product portfolio will have a key competitive advantage in the marketplace. If they do not have the treasure chest to make these investments, it may be best to join forces or partner with congruent resources to foster this absolutely essential advantage. Hiring top-notch techies in your enterprise is also a tremendous win.

Thought Leadership: The majority of the top 10 skills needed for 2020 deal with some type of specific thought capacity. Organizations and bodies of influence who invest in exposing their cultures to renown thought leadership and motivators will do well as the playing field continues to become more competitive. The dynamic insights and go-getting energy these individuals bring to your people have a way of motivating and generating a next-level surge that opens up new windows of thought and growth.

Years ago, I had an inspiring dialogue with a young man from Nigeria who was in the final stretch of completing his residency on the journey to becoming a practicing physician. He told me that in his Igbo tribe they had a saying that translates to “tomorrow will be better.” He told me that no matter how tough things are today, there is always hope that the next day will be the day things take a turn for the best. During moments of challenge, I sometimes think about that conversation and it helps keep me centered.

In a world that is constantly changing and shifting, as leaders, what measures do we have in place to keep us keenly aligned toward true north? Find your place of equilibrium and focus as a front-runner, while generating benchmarks that routinely appraise the purpose of your leadership. This culmination of awareness maximizes a greater level of influence and growth for your organizations and, most importantly, your people.


Industry-friendly Maha policies brought foreign investment: Devendra Fadnavis

Industry-friendly policies and amendments to various laws for industrial development have fetched foreign investment in Maharashtra, ensuring that it attracted 49 percent of all such investment in the country, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said on Saturday.

He was speaking at the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Midea Technology Park at Supa industrial area in Ahmednagar district’s Parner, over 100 kilometres from here.

Fadnavis said the technology park, set up by a Chinese home appliances manufacturer, would generate jobs for people in Supa and Parner regions.

He added that the state would provide space for Chinese firms to set up industrial clusters, adding that foreign investors would be given all cooperation in order to attract more investment in Maharashtra.

He said Maharashtra had a considerable role to play in India jumping 23 places to 77th spot on World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking.


Tips to assess portfolio for measuring investment success

These days more and more investors in India are investing in financial assets. While a lot of these investors are at an investment stage, they would need to soon start measuring investment performance.

At all my financial education sessions, when I ask the audience about their experience in investing in financial markets, I find most of the participants really have no idea on the performance of their investments. Many investors are not sure if they have invested in the right funds or how to review the funds held.

Further, at a portfolio level, too, investors find it difficult to calculate the overall return and hence do not know if they are actually making money overall.

Most investors tend to evaluate their investment performance on absolute returns. The problem with absolute performance is that it doesn’t give the right picture on the fund performance. For e.g. an investment may have given 30% returns but the markets may have gone up by 40%. In such cases, the funds are clearly underperforming but the investor is happy because he has got a good absolute return.

The other way that performance is measured is relative to a benchmark. The benchmarks commonly used are stock market indices like S&P BSE 30, NIFTY 50 etc. All mutual funds always benchmark their performance to an index. However, relative performance to the benchmark cannot be used in isolation to review fund performance.

Investors must also compare how the fund has performed compared to other funds in the same category. However, within the same category of funds, each fund may have a different benchmark and hence comparing two funds becomes difficult. While various parameters like risk rations, rolling returns, etc. are to be used to evaluate funds, most investors would find it difficult to do this analysis. A better way then would be to compare the performance of a fund to the category average return, which is available online.

Hence, at a fund level, the investor can measure individual investment success by checking if the fund held has beaten the category average and its benchmark.

However, would beating an index or other funds be the right measure of investment success? Many a times, the index is not reflective of the risk tolerance and type of holdings an investor has. For example, an investor may prefer to invest in large-cap stocks but the benchmark being followed may have a smaller proportion of such shares. While a fund may be performing better than the index, parameters like inflation and compounding are not factored in.

For instance, an investor could be saving money for a house purchase. Now even if the investment is beating the benchmark, is it beating inflation too? Also, the cost of investing is not accounted for, especially in case of ULIP, where the fund maybe beating the benchmark but this return doesn’t include expenses like mortality cost, policy administration charges, etc.

I strongly believe that investment success is about being able to have enough for your financial goals. Having well performing funds are the means to the end. But the end, which is attaining financial goals, what is the true measure of success in one’s financial life.

And the only way to find out if the investments made, are sufficient to meet your goals is by creating a financial plan and sticking to the plan. The goal plan then becomes the benchmark to measure investment success. Having a plan in place also helps investors to figure out if they are choosing investments based on their investment horizon and risk profile.

Hence, to measure success at an overall portfolio level, investors must track on an annual basis, how much of their goals have been achieved by their investments and of course how these investments are performing individually in comparison to their category average.

Investment success is all about achieving what one wants with their money with the right instruments.


What’s Your Cannabis Investment Strategy?

Like some family office fund managers I’ve spoken to, you might be weighing a cannabis industry investment strategy. Some believe there’s extraordinary money to be made, particularly in the burgeoning U.S. market. But exceptional returns come with substantial risk, and most wealthy individual and family office investors don’t have the background or belly to play in the current market.

The hype around cannabis makes me suspicious of a coming bubble. However, the root of the investment theory is sound: commercialization is replacing the multi-billion dollar black market with a multi-billion dollar legal industry, giving investors an unprecedented opportunity to gauge its size and certainty.

The risk comes from the legal status of marijuana in the U.S. While the states are trending toward legalization, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Another issue is the black market itself, which is likely to continue for some time and compete with the legal enterprises that bear high regulatory costs, including license fees. Investors could easily find themselves afoul of federal law, and without proper due diligence, among business partners with black market ties. For a cautionary tale, read up on Harmony & Green, a Colorado-based grower that was raided by the DEA and alleged to have transported marijuana across state lines.

A Bifurcated Investment Opportunity

Rick Kimball, managing member of Samphire Capital Management, has made seven cannabis industry investments, including one that has already been sold. Mr. Kimball cautions that investors must do thorough research into the complexities of the law and the industry, and extra due diligence into the operations of potential investment targets. “If you have the resources to do the research and can stomach the risk, these are the fanciest returns we’ve seen in a long time,” he says.

According to Mr. Kimball, there’s a bifurcation in cannabis investment opportunities—those that do and don’t touch the plant. “If you have ERISA pension money or a charter that says you can’t invest in a company which is violating federal law, then you probably can’t invest in something that touches the plant,” he says. “Anything to do with growing, extracting or dispensing could have regulatory consequences.”


Instead, he points to investment opportunities that don’t touch the plant, such as professional services, ag-tech and broader technologies. Services such as branding, packaging, payroll systems, CRM and data analytics have value because they provide licensed cannabis industry players with enhanced business operations and a competitive advantage.

Operational Focus Key to Long Term Prospects

The operational sophistication of the licensed industry players is a key metric for investors with a longer view, who see large multi-national tobacco, pharmacy and other Forbes “Global 2000” types acquiring the top cannabis brands when (and if) the federal law changes and marijuana is legal.

IDPE is a Washington, D.C.-based single-family office in the process of closing cannabis investments that it expects will produce significant cash flow in the short term, while preparing for the potential of greater returns when larger players are expected to enter the market through acquisition. “Ultimately, the real key is ‘who are the operators’,” says Brad Love, a senior advisor to IDPE. “The team that’s following the best practices will be prepared for the future. We don’t want CVS to come to our place and think we’re a rinky-dink mom-and-pop operation.”

That philosophy is paying off for licensed operators such as Chicago-based Verano Holdings, which recently announced $120 million in financing, including an $88 million equity investment by Toronto-based Scythian Biosciences Corp. (Scythian has since been renamed SOL Global Investments Corp.) That investment is significant, in part because Canada is establishing the blueprint for the financial structure of a legal cannabis industry.

“We’re building our business to be one of the best in the country,” says George Archos, Verano’s chairman and CEO. In describing his company, Mr. Archos emphasizes its focus on business fundamentals, including the medicinal value and quality of the product, the strength of the team and a focus on operational efficiencies.

Opposition in Colorado

Those success stories aside, not everyone is enamored of the potential for legal cannabis, including Bob Troyer, the U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado, who recently wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post decrying the impact of commercialization in that state.

There’s resistance in the medical community, too. “It’s clear that legalized marijuana is the second version of big tobacco. It’s ‘Big Tobacco 2.0’,” says Dr. Christian Thurstone, medical director of STEP, one of Colorado’s largest youth substance abuse treatment clinics, and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

The same profit motive with big tobacco exists with marijuana. You get 80% of your profits from 35% of your customers who use daily. Heavy use stems from those who began using marijuana in adolescence, the time when the brain’s reward circuit develops. Our pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that can curtail this behavior, doesn’t develop into our mid-20s.”

Dr. Thurstone leaves room for the potential of FDA-regulated legal marijuana derived drugs, but has this warning for cannabis industry investors who are evaluating its long-term potential: “Think about the states and cities suing opioid makers as well as tobacco companies.”

Developing a “Sixth Sense”

The cannabis industry investors I spoke with for this article described a kind of “sixth sense” that needs to be developed in order to spot potential problem investments. Mr. Love referred to investments IDPE turned down because “enough warning lights went off, including crazy valuations, short-term fuse, or an overly complex structure.” An investor would have to really focus and dive deep into the nuance of commercialized cannabis to develop that level of perception. From my perch, it may be more prudent for wealthy individuals and family office funds to get to know the market and players in this early stage, and look for opportunities in the next round, when the law is more settled and companies with strong brands and other business fundamentals begin to emerge.

And I suspect many risk-averse family office-related investors will continue to talk about having a cannabis strategy at the family office conferences, but keep their focus on safer investment opportunities with steady returns. Says Rob Wray, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, who met with a number of family offices while seeking financing for his startup, BlueStar SeniorTech, “I rarely saw them motivated by a return on investment—they seem more motivated to avoid losing money. They seem to spend a lot of time going to meetings with other family offices, but I never saw the investments that resulted.” And that’s a topic for another column.


Are Rare Seashells A Good Retirement Investment?

I had to smile when this question was posed because seashells have long been a passion of mine, and I still receive great pleasure from the cabinet where I display the shells I gathered over the years. Note that I used the word “gathered” rather than “collected.”  My shells were taken from the water by me or by someone from my immediate family. Collectors buy and trade shells, which I never did.

While my shells are a source of quiet satisfaction, they have little monetary value because none of them are rare. If I depended on them for my retirement, I would be in real trouble. One of my shells, called Gloria Maris for Glory of the Seas was once extremely valuable. When I began shell gathering in the 1960s, there were only a few known specimens. The saga of Gloria Maris points up the hazard of investing in rare seashells.

What happened was that the habitat of the shell was discovered, large numbers of them were collected and offered in the marketplace, and their price plummeted. I read about it at the time in a newsletter put out by a museum with a large shell collection. The culprits were identified as 2 Australian divers.

Flash forward to 1988 when my wife and I with two other couples chartered a boat in the Solomon Islands for a diving excursion. The boat was owned by an Australian diver named Brian Baily, who turned out to be one of the two divers who broke the world market for Gloria Maris. I asked Brian how he found their habitat and he told me the whole story, which I later confirmed by going to the site and snagging a Gloria Maris for myself.

The site was off Guadalcanal, an island that saw fierce fighting during  World War 2. After the island was secured, it became a supply depot for the entire Pacific war operation. When the war ended, there was an enormous supply of war materiel on the island that it did not pay to repatriate but which had to be removed from Guadalcanal. So the army loaded all this stuff on barges, floated the barges down the big river that bisects Guadalcanal, and dumped it in the ocean about half a mile from shore.

Included in the materials that were dumped were artillery shells with brass casings. As the years passed, the market price of brass rose to the point where it became profitable for divers to salvage these shells, which is what attracted Brian to the scene. He was there for the brass and discovered a treasure trove of shells.

I asked Brian if he would take me to the site, and he did. The water there was about 70 feet deep and the current was so strong that Brian took the boat’s anchor down with him to prevent our boat from drifting away. The bottom was mud, visibility was about 3 feet, there was no coral and no fish. It was by far the most unattractive place I have ever dived. No diver would ever go there, absent the unique set of circumstances that drew Brian to the site.

In retrospect, it might appear that the circumstances that drove down the value of Gloria Maris were so unusual that they should be ignored in considering future investments in rare shells. The problem with that argument is that Gloria Maris was not the first rare shell that became a common shell after its habitat was discovered. In the 18th century, the precious wentletrap was so valuable that counterfeit versions were fabricated in China using rice paste. Today this shell is readily available in shell shops.

The bottom line of this history for retirement planning — which has nothing to do with seashells – is that in  developing their plan retirees should define their worst case and make sure they can live with it. A retirement planning system my colleagues and I are building will help them do that.

At various times I was Chief of the Domestic Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, on the senior staff of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Jacob Safra Professor of International Banking at the Wharton School, and managing editor of the Journal o…


Odisha Government Approves Investment Plans Worth Rs. 25,845 Crore

Odisha Government Approves Investment Plans Worth Rs 25,845 Crore

The Odisha government on Saturday approved six proposals to set up large manufacturing units in the state at a cost of Rs. 25,845 crore.

The High Level Clearance Authority (HLCA), headed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, approved the projects, three of which are from Vedanta Ltd.

Vedanta plans to set up a unit to make caustic soda and chemical byproducts at Dhamra in Bhadrak district at an investment of Rs. 6,500 crore, said state Industries secretary Sanjeev Chopra.

Besides, the HLCA approved Vedanta’s proposal to expand its alumina refinery plant at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district at an investment of Rs. 6,483. Further, the Anil Agarwal-controlled mining company seeks to expand its aluminium smelter unit in Jharsuguda at an investment of Rs. 1,240 crore.

It also approved a downstream project of state-run Nalco entailing an investment of Rs. 5,522 crore. It will produce aluminium alloy wheel, aluminium foil, aluminium rolled products and extrusions at Kamakshyanagar in Dhenkanal district, said Chopra.

He said that Hindalco Industries Ltd plans to establish a downstream unit for production of aluminium flat rolled products at Lapanga in Sambalpur.

The unit will require an investment of Rs. 5,000 crore.