KIRSTY - THE US EQUITY INVESTOR
"I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for a job."
Kirsty grew up in rural Aberdeenshire, attending Aboyne Academy from 2000-2007. Her ambition was to become a ballet dancer. When that did not work out, she moved in 2007 to study at the University of Edinburgh and took up scuba diving, graduating MA (Hons) in Economics in 2011 and MSc in Carbon Management in 2012. She joined Baillie Gifford in 2012 and is an Investment Manager in the US Equities Team. Kirsty enjoys hiking, is an avid reader and remains an enthusiastic ballet dancer!
In what other career could you be talking to the CEO of a social media giant or an electric car company one day, and then the founder of a potentially transformational treatment for Alzheimer's or cancer the next? It's a job that's going to get you out of bed in the morning. I think you have to be willing to fail, and to learn from it. And humans don't want to fail. And that's fine, but it's realising how much you can learn from it. And I hate the idea that somebody wouldn't apply for a job because they're worried about not getting it.
Hi, I'm Gillian.
And I'm Sophie. And you're listening to Breaking Through Careers: Investment Management Edition with Future Assets, where we demystify the industry that is Investment Management.
Each episode we explore a new asset class or role to find out what our guest does on a day-to-day basis and what they did in order to get there.
We'll also be joined by a keen school student each episode to help ask the question you want to know the answers to.
Do you need to study economics at a certain university to get into Investment Management?
What's the difference between active and passive investment?
Quam funds? Indices? Can you please speak normal English!
I thought you had to be posh to work in investment management, no?
On a scale of 1-10? How boring would you say...
Am I going to need to get a pinstripe suit?
Today we're going to welcome Kirsty Gibson, a US equity investment manager from Baillie Gifford.
In this episode, she is going to tell us how important it is to not be afraid of failure. She's going to give us a breakdown of the stock market and she's going to tell us her path of how she got from being a ballerina to an investment manager.
So today we are asking: what is US equity investing? And how does a person find themselves doing that as a day job? Today I'm joined by my series special co-host, Sophie.
And this week, our guest co-host is Beth from Lochgelly High School. Welcome, Beth.
Hi, guys. How are you?
I'm wonderful today, thanks. How are you?
I'm great. Thank you.
Fabulous to hear. Okay, so what do both of you know about equity investing?
Well I'm not an expert and I don't know too much. But I do think equity investing is like buying shares in a company. They might be a big company or a smaller one... so I think that's roughly what it is. But I don't know the ins and outs of the investment process.
Great! And how about you Beth?
I don't know much yet as I find when you research, there's not much that comes up. So I'm really looking forward to finding out what it actually is.
Fantastic. Well, there's lots that we're going to learn from Kirsty today. So let's see how that goes. What are you most looking forward to learning from Kirsty today?
I think I'm most excited to hear how it's not The Wolf of Wall Street. And hear more about how she's actually found her way into this career.
I'm looking forward to finding out where she got to where she is today, as Sophie said. And what the stock market actually is, it's like a big mystery to me, like I just don't understand it.
Yeah! It's like when you watch these films, you just see numbers on the screen and someone shouting "50 basis points!" Or like: "Sell this!" Yeah, so we'll see how much of that is actually representative of real life. Great, so I think now it's time to welcome Kirsty. Welcome, Kirsty, how are you?
Great! Thank you very much for having me.
Thank you so much for coming on our podcast.
I would like to say I'm looking forward to it, but slightly nervous!
Quick Fire Round
We will ease you in with our Quick Fire round, I promise. So I'll jump straight into it then our first section. Essentially, we will just ask you a bunch of random questions and you've got to answer as quickly as possible with the first answer that comes into your mind. Ready?
Fab! Okay: Do you have your eggs, scrambled, poached, boiled or fried?
What three items would you take to a desert island with you Kirsty?
Books? I probably should say my children and my husband! Are they items?
I mean I'd say that they're definitely more than items! It sounds like you've got at least some company and some very good
Do you prefer tea or coffee?
Tea. Don't like coffee!
Did you go to a government school or a private school?
Went to a government school.
Name one place that you've always wanted to visit?
Glad you finished that because at this point, I was like maybe Costa? Given we've all been home for so long! Dropping the bar!
Yeah I'm not that desperate.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Oh predict the future, I mean, that'd be amazing for my job.
Well, next up Kirsty, we want to just hear a little bit more about you and find out where you've come from. So tell us where are you from? And what city do you live in currently?
I grew up in Aboyne, which is in rural Aberdeenshire. I currently live in Linlithgow or just outside, which is near Edinburgh.
Why did you agree to come on to our podcast?
It's quite a funny story. This is not really my sort of thing. But I'm trying to do a few things every year that make me feel truly uncomfortable. And I thought that this will be one of them. So I thought I could tick it off the list early.
I think that's fantastic. I think we should all try and do a bit more of that because so many great things can come from it.
I would totally agree with you.
So the next question is: What is your job and what kind of investment firm do you work for?
I am an investment manager. And I work for a 'long only', which means that we look to invest over the very long term, an investment management firm based in Edinburgh.
Did you always dream of growing up to be a US equity investor Kirsty? And did you feel that there was pressure to know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I can honestly say, I don't think I knew, even after the interview for the job that I currently do, I don't think I knew what the job actually entailed. To be perfectly honest. So no, I really didn't dream of being a US equity investor. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I even tried to be a ballet dancer, but that didn't work out. So I don't think I'd say that there was a pressure to know what I wanted to be. But I think that there is sometimes a pressure to know what you want to study at university or something like that. Which is not always particularly helpful when you've just finished school. And you don't really know what you want to study either. So I just went with the tactic of: I'll study something I really like, or that I'm really interested in. And then I think that sets you up really well for your future career anyway.
Absolutely. So you mentioned that you of course, loved ballet. What kind of kid would you say that you were when you were younger?
Shy.... Pretty shy and sort of retiring. Interestingly, because I wanted to be a ballet dancer but didn't really like to be the centre of attention, that possibly may have been my downfall in actually trying to be one. Plus, you know, not being good enough. But yeah, I was a fairly quiet person, I like to spend time reading, time on my own. And that's not to say I don't like other people. I'm just not the person that's out partying till 2am.
What kinds of unique skills do you have that you think helped you become successful and get to where you are today?
Oh that's a tough one. I'm still not entirely sure why they gave me the job. And particularly when I see the new graduates coming in every year, and you just think "Woah." They all have such impressive resumes, etc. Mine does not compete with that. I think, possibly my qualifications from university were a bit different. I did a Master's in Carbon Management at Edinburgh University, once I'd finished my undergraduate degree. And I think that in the job that I do, and the company that I work for, we're always looking for different perspectives. I think that that brought with it a completely different perspective on how I think about the world. And that's a really big plus point, when it comes to something like investment management, you don't want everybody to think the same. Because ultimately, you want people to think differently so that they can bring different sources of insight when you're deciding what to buy, and what not to buy on behalf of your clients.
So there are many people who think there's a really particular way to get into finance or succeed, through this almost preset path. Would you then say it could be a benefit, or at least an option to have a really, really different background or non finance related degree?
I think particularly now, with so many people going to university, that if you think about how you're going to make your CV stand out, it's not going to be through doing the same things as everybody else. And following the same path that people maybe would have historically. I think there's a common, maybe misconception, that you need to have a finance qualification, you need to have done an internship at a finance company, you need to have been head of the trading society at university or something like that. And that's not to say those skills are not useful. And there will always be people who have those skills. But I think that that's changing somewhat and I think that the things that are really going to make you stand out are the things that are different. Consequently, sports that you're interested in or hobbies that you've pursued, or places that you visited, or things that you'd like to do, I think those are the things that are going to make you be different. And they're the things that show that you think differently. And therefore, I think those are the things on your CV that people are going to be really, really interested in. Rather than trying to conform with maybe how things used to be. I would add to that, I think there are some companies who do expect that you have a finance degree. And there are some that do expect that you do an internship with them before you would even be offered a job. But there are many that wouldn't expect that. And if you haven't got those things, that's absolutely fine because there are plenty of companies for you to choose from, if you were interested.
Having read 1000s of applications, I would really agree with you Kirsty. And I think that, as well, when people talk about things they're interested in, or they're passionate about, or where they've built those skills, they tend to be a lot more confident. So it's always good to get that insight. You mentioned about coming from a different background academically, what were the key resources that really helped you on your career journey, whether they be people or tools or institutions?
I think the biggest thing for me was a piece of advice that my dad gave me, which was that you should go to a good university and study a good degree. Then that means that you can choose whatever you want at the end of it. Because most career paths, unless they're extremely vocational, like say, engineering or medicine or dentistry where you know, I don't think anybody wants their dentist to have an English literature qualification before they go in. I think you want them to have a dental degree. I mean, legally, they need to have a dental degree. But I think most other jobs, nearly everything is open to you if you have a good degree, and you've worked hard in that degree and you've managed to get a reasonable qualification as a consequence. I mean, in the company that I work for on the investment floor, there are people with all sorts of backgrounds. I mean, we do have people that have studied medicine, and they've decided that maybe they don't want to be a doctor, we have people who studied music, somebody studied archaeology, somebody who studied psychology. There are, of course, people who studied economics, I'm one of them. But there are people who studied maths and computer science and history. And there's just so much variety. I think that if that's the subject that you're really interested in, you're going to study it for three or four years, you should study the subject that you're interested and realise that there are probably plenty of job opportunities at the end of it, regardless of what degree you have.
Yeah I'd really like to echo that, because even on my grad intake, just four years ago, we had two engineers, one I think, was a chemical engineer, one did mechanical engineering. We had Spanish and history students all joining an investment management firm. So you know, you're not bound by your degree, I'm sure that they must have had to prove why they're interested in finance, because it might seem like a 180. But they still made it along with the accounting, finance and economics students.
Which University did you study economics at?
That's where I'm going in September.
I mean, it's a great university. I chose Edinburgh because my dad told me I could go to any university as long as it was in Scotland because it was free!
So the next round is the technical round. And it would be great if you could help us out with some terminology and lingo.
Okay, I'll give it a stab anyway.
So the first question is one I'm really looking forward to: What is the stock market?
Right. So it's probably easiest to break that into two parts. So a market is where people go to buy and sell things. They trade a good or a service. So eBay is probably a really good example here. The online site is a market where people buy and sell pre owned goods. A stock, on the other hand, is a share in a publicly listed company. So if a company has 100 shares, and I own one of them, I own a 100th of that company. Thus, a stock market is a market in which people trade shares.
And next up, I have a question for you Kirsty that I definitely asked when I was a 17 year old apprentice joining the industry, and it is what is meant by an asset class? And could you give us an example?
Okay, so my explanation of stock market is probably oversimplified as to the type of goods that can be traded. So stocks in publicly traded companies are one type of asset. But there are other asset classes. And these are other groups of investments that exhibit specific characteristics that are quite similar to each other. I'll give you maybe a few examples, because these are things that you'll probably hear people talk about a lot and then you think: "Oh, right okay. That's what they are." So equities, that's another name for stocks or shares. I invest in US equity, so I invest in US companies on behalf of my clients. Fixed Income, which is bonds, which is another name for company debt. So people offer to lend to that company. Commodities, which is another asset class. So that's like gold or oil or something like that. Real estate is another one. So property, commercial property, you can invest in things like shopping malls or high rise towers. And then finally, currencies is probably another one of the really well known asset classes, and that's obviously different types of money from different countries, you can decide to invest in those as well.
So pretty much anything!
Yeah, pretty much anything. I mean, anything that's not in one of those is probably just sort of shoved in commodities.
Great. So quite a topical one: What is the difference between active and passive investing?
Right okay, ooo that's quite a tricky one to explain without using lots of technical financial jargon. Right, I'll give it a go. So, passive investing is about tracking a benchmark or index. You may have heard people talk about the FTSE 100? Which is the top 100 largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange in the UK. So passive investing would be investing in an index fund of the FTSE 100 where you would then own all 100 of the companies in the FTSE 100 in exactly the same weight. So that is the same percentage size as they are in the FTSE itself. Where passive investing is all about replicating a benchmark, active investing is all about trying to beat that benchmark. So it's about creating a portfolio of companies you believe will deliver a better return than the benchmark. So you might own a different number of stocks than the benchmark. You might hold stocks that are not even in the benchmark, or you might have larger or smaller holdings than the benchmarks. So say something in the benchmark represents 10% of the benchmark, you might choose to hold it at 5% or you might choose to hold it at 15%. It is about having a differentiated view, I guess, than the benchmark. So I do active investing. And I am paid by my clients to try and deliver long term outperformance of a specific benchmark.
Who are your clients? And what value do you bring to them?
My clients are individuals like you or I. Alongside institutional pension schemes, so big, either company schemes or like councils. Like in the UK, you might have Edinburgh City Council that would have a pension fund. Endowments, charities, and they entrust me and my fellow investment managers at Baillie Gifford with their money in the hope that over the long run, we could increase the value of their investments. So for many people, it would be their pensions that are invested in our funds, and we look to grow the value of their pension to provide them with greater amounts of money or income in their retirement.
So the next round is your current role. So the first question is, what was your route from age 16? And what are you now, career wise?
So it's a bit winding! So at 16, I was still trying to be a ballet dancer. I was also studying for my highers at the same time, so did my highers. And then in my sixth year, because I decided to go to a Scottish university, I just did some more highers. I just decided why have five when I could have nine? And then I went to Edinburgh University to study Economics. And interestingly, I actually started studying Economics and Politics. But halfway through my first year, I decided I didn't really enjoy the politics side, so I just swapped to straight Economics. Then at the end of my four year degree, I'd been particularly interested at university in Carbon Economics. And one of my lecturers had told me that Edinburgh University offered a Carbon Management Master's, which was a combination of economics, business and science. With this idea of creating a more rounded degree when you had perspectives from all three of those disciplines. I thought it sounded really, really interesting. I also at the time, had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for a job. So I thought maybe just doing another year of university would be worth my while. So I completed my Master's and actually halfway through my master's degree, I went to the ballet in Edinburgh, with my now husband, and one of the ballet dancers was sponsored by this company called Baillie Gifford. And I thought, who sponsors a ballet dancer? What kind of company would sponsor a ballet dancer? So I googled them and that is how I learned about the job that I applied for, which is an investment analyst role. Starts off as an investment analyst role. I thought it sounded really, really interesting. I didn't apply to any other jobs in finance. I applied to this one and I thought, "oh, give that a go. I'll see what happens." And I got the job! So before Christmas, actually, in the year, when I finished my Master's in the following September, I already knew I had a job to go to after that. So that was quite a nice feeling. And then since then, I joined Baillie Gifford, I started on our US equities team, which is the team I'm actually in now. But Baillie Gifford offers a rotation for the first three to five years. I think it used to be three years when I was there, it's now five. You rotate through lots of different teams. You can go between both equity teams and the fixed income teams that we talked about like different asset class. I actually just stayed within the equity teams, I rotated from our US equities team into one of our large cap strategies global strategy. So when I say large cap, I mean, big companies. They have large market capitalisations called Global Alpha, I then rotated off that team into our small cap. So small capitalisation really quite small companies. And when I say small, I mean in the grand scheme of things, they still feel quite big, because they're usually about a billion dollars in market capitalisations. But that's small when it comes to investing. I spent a year on that team and then I actually came back to the US team. And I've been there ever since. And I transitioned from being an analyst to being a manager of the portfolios. And that is where I am today, managing portfolios on the US equities team.
That sounds great. What qualifications did you gain along the way? Like, have you gained any qualifications within your role?
Yes, so I obviously got my degree and then my postgraduate degree, and then for the role that I do, I had to do the CFA, which is the Chartered Financial Analyst. Only Level One, there are three levels. It's optional to do the other two levels, I decided that I didn't like those options after the stress of doing the first level. But to be fair, some investment management companies would require that you do all three levels. Then there's something called the IMC as well, which is the Investment Management Certificate. And both Level One and the IMC, I believe are required for regulatory purposes. You have to do both of those for regulatory purposes. And to be honest, you do them quite early on in your career. They're hard work, a lot of hard work goes into them. But I think they're a really useful grounding for people and to remind you that you've gone into an industry where you are paid well, and it's a good job, and it has a lot of future career prospects. And for someone to ask you to do two exams in exchange for that doesn't feel too bad.
So you went to university, but do you think it's necessary to go to university to get into your role?
I think at the moment, yes. Things are definitely changing, the world's evolving, you're seeing a lot more different types of ways of educating yourself, whether that be the idea of continuous education or modern apprenticeships, etc, etc. I think at the moment, the majority of investment management companies would expect you to have a degree, at least an undergraduate, you'll find a lot of people have more qualifications than that. They might have Masters, they might have PhDs. It's not a requirement. But I expect that most companies at the moment would require you to have an undergraduate degree. But that might change over time, if our society's viewpoint of education evolves, and maybe they might decide that you could have done 20 Coursera courses, and that qualifies you enough. But the moment I think it's probably the case that you'd need to have a degree.
With such an exciting job, I'm sure there's no such thing as an average day Kirsty. But could you try and tell us a bit more about what an average day at work looks like for you?
Yeah, so I mean, an average day at the moment is, I get up, I have breakfast, and then I walk into my living room, which is not normal! Although actually there is quite a lot of flexibility in working from home in the job I do. That's probably one of the perks anyway. Let me give you an example of a few things I did last week, that might help. I'm usually at any one time working on at least one company, researching at least one company. Whether or not we want to invest in the shares. And those levels of research can be really varied, depending on the type of company and how interested I am in them. I can have some companies where I've just started the research, and I'm just thinking this might be interesting. And then there'll be some where I decide they're not interesting so I just stop or park it for now. It might be that I come back to it at a later date. There'll be others where I'm really far into the research process. And I may be arranging calls to speak to the management teams, speaking to the CEO, or the CFO of that company. Last week, I had a call with one of our holdings. So one of the companies that we own in the portfolio, I had a call with the management team. So the CEO, the CFO - sorry, I should say what they are - that's the Chief Executive Officer, or Chief Financial Officer, and then the Chief Commercial Officer, from one of our companies. I had a call with them on Zoom. If we were in the office, it might be that you would meet some of those people in person, rather than over Zoom. Because obviously, at the moment for me, all of the companies I invest in are in the US, so there's no travelling between the two of us. I also have some client work to do. So I might have to do a presentation to some of the clients that we have, or might be prepping for a presentation. We also, as a team discuss every stock. So there are eight people on the team that I work on. Each one of those people writes research on companies. And when somebody has completed a report, we sit down, and we discuss and debate it. So I usually have at least one of those every week. So I think those are probably the main things that I do in my day, a lot of reading, a lot of keeping up with current affairs, keeping up with the news, keeping up with the companies that we have in the portfolio, seeing what they're up to, what they're doing. In both positive and unfortunately, sometimes negative ways. Then deciding whether or not we should make any changes on the back of that.
Plenty to keep you going then! And it's really nice to hear the variation of work that you do, that it's not always head down research and it's not always out presenting but a really good mix of different skills and interests.
Yeah, definitely, I would say it's really varied. The other big thing that I absolutely love doing, which is obviously not on the cards at the moment is we go on investment trips. And sometimes we work in a bit of client work into that. But the majority of the investors love to just go and spend a week or two weeks or I actually spent almost a month in the US with my husband and my daughter in 2018. Just meeting companies and meeting experts in their fields and going to conferences and all that kind of stuff just taking in and absorbing lots of new information. So yeah, it's absolutely fantastic.
So you mentioned some research that you do - what process do you actually go through when it comes to picking a stock or company to invest in?
The way it works on my team is there are four fund managers out of eight. So four of us can decide to put something into the portfolio. We will all have done some research into the company and usually write a report. Every team, probably every company, has different ways of writing those reports, we have a set structure that we follow. But the research process is very much more creative. You research in any way shape or form that you like. And I guess the report is a presentation of all that stuff that you've researched. We would then sit down and discuss and debate that stock and the merits of that stock. And then in a separate discussion, we talk about any changes or implementation that we want to make. And we separate those two things out because it's very easy in a stock discussion to get quite excited about a company and it's good to have a little bit of time just to cool it down a little bit before you decide whether or not you're going to invest any of your clients' money in that. Or you're going to sell some shares in something else. So that's the process as to how something is to get into the portfolio. But the research process usually takes, I probably spend around about the equivalent of a month on a company, a company that I want to put into the portfolio. Obviously, now I have a lot more other things. When you first start out, you probably write about 12 reports a year, because you spend about a month on each. But when you have client work, and various other bits and pieces, I think the time I spend on any one company is probably equivalent to a month. But it might take me more like three to actually get the report written and out.
What was it that made you choose equities over the other asset classes?
It wasn't really a conscious choice. So at Baillie Gifford, we have a fixed income department, and we have an equity department. When you do your rotations into different teams, you can state preferences to what team you want to go to, but to be honest with you, most of the time, you're just moved according to where there is requirement. Where they think it would be beneficial for you to go, where you would learn the most, where you're going to grow as an investor, what skill sets you're missing and what other teams might help you with that. And I just happened to stay in equities during my entire rotation. I've now reached a point where fixed income is quite a different skill set in many respects. There are some similarities, but I honestly admire what they do and don't think that I could do that on a daily basis. I just don't have the experience to be able to do that now.
What do you like about your job, Kirsty?
Oh what do I not like about my job?
Join us for Part Two, where we find out what Kirsty's job has to do with jigsaw puzzles, what skills you need to be a good equity investment manager, and why failure is so important. And if in the meantime, anything that we said sounded like mumbo jumbo, head to our website where you can find our investment management glossary.
Thanks for listening. Please join us again next episode as we hear some more truths, learn some more jargon and bust some more myths.
Don't forget to subscribe to the core breaking through careers podcast by your podcast app of choice and check out the website at www.breakingthroughcareers.org Catch you next episode!