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!
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 questions 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 investments....
Quam funds? Indices? Can you please speak normal English!
I thought you needed 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?
Welcome to Part Two of the US Equity Investor. In Part One, Kirsty told us how a ballet show led to the investment management industry, explained what the stock market is, and gave us her opinion on whether or not you need to go to university to become an equity investor. And if so, what degree you should pick. Let's get to it!
What do you like about your job, Kirsty?
Oh, what do I not like about my job?
I think it's that it's very varied. I can't imagine getting bored in what I do. And I'm in my ninth year now and I'm still not bored with researching companies. I think the variety that it brings is really, really interesting to me. There's also a couple of other things. So the second thing is: we, as a team, invest in what we would call transformational growth. So we're looking for companies that can really potentially change the world. And it just means that you get to research things that are right at the cutting edge. Whether it be new types of medicines or new types of electric versus combustible cars, and you start researching them in such an early stage. You just learn so much, about so many things that you probably in life wouldn't cover. I think the other thing for me is: I love jigsaws. And I think that this job is quite like a metaphorical jigsaw. It's collecting information and bringing in lots of different pieces of information and making up a big jigsaw in your head. But it's also a jigsaw that's never ending, you never have a completed picture. It's always changing. And that part really, really appeals to me this idea that it's slightly investigational, slightly creative. I think it just brings in many parts of my personality. I really like the analytical side and that's something that I really enjoy. But I like that creative side. We do a lot of thinking about how a company could be in 5-10 years, if they're successful. And that's just amazing to think about that, you're not thinking about how might things go wrong. You're thinking about how might things go right? And how could this company change the world? And what would happen if we all drove electric cars? Or what would happen if all cars were electric, but they drove themselves? That's amazing to be able to spend your day doing that. That's a luxury. That's why I would say I really enjoy my job.
It sounds amazing. But I also now really get why that would be your superhero choice: to be able to see into the future!
Yeah, I think I might end up in prison, though, if that was the case! Because I'm pretty sure that would be illegal. It would make me very good at my job, but no.
So now for the other side of the coin, what do you dislike about your job?
I think one of the hardest things - and that's why I talk about the superpower of being able to see into the future- is the uncertainty factor. And I think I've gained more comfort in that overtime. But I think when you first start out, I think you come from university where you are praised for being right. You get higher marks when you're right, and all that kind of thing. And then you get thrust into a world where you don't know if you're right. Like, I could say: "Let's buy a stock." And it might for one year, not go up, it might not rise in price, it might mean that our clients haven't made any money in it. Does that mean I'm wrong? If I'm on a five year investment horizon, and actually in five years we make money, does that mean I was right? The reasons that the stock goes up that I believe could happen ..... it might not go up for those reasons, but it still goes up. So does that mean I was right? Or does that mean I was wrong? So you kind of just have to go with the flow a little bit. And I think in the last few years, maybe since I've had kids, it's really helped. I've embrace that uncertainty. But I think that as humans, we very naturally want to hold on to things that we can understand. And we want to understand things perfectly. And know that we're doing this correctly. And the feedback loops in investment are just so long. So all I can say is, well, for my clients, my fund has a good track record of returns. That's really fabulous. But I think that there's a constant questioning of "Well, can I continue to deliver that?" You find ways of coping with that, but that's probably - not the thing I enjoy the least - the thing I find the hardest about my job is that continuous uncertainty and having to embrace that uncertainty.
I guess knowing a bit more about what goes into the job, the good and the bad, it'd be great if you could tell us a bit more about what the key skills are to be a good equity investor?
I'm not sure there's a tick list, I think some degree of analytical skill is required. But I think that has to be combined with creativity, because I think if you think about what I said earlier about what active investing is: it's about trying to beat a benchmark. I think you're only going to beat that benchmark, if you think differently. Because if you all analyse companies in exactly the same way, you're all going to arrive at the same conclusion, which means ultimately, you're not going to beat the benchmark. Because the benchmark is going to perform in the same way that you do. So I think you have to have the analytical skill and that's what you learn on the job. And that's why it's okay that you have an English literature degree or a Music degree or anything like that, because you can build those skills on the job. I think the harder thing to teach people is that creativity, that "what could this company be like, in however many years?" Allowing your imagination a little bit to run riot. I think that's the hardest skill to teach people. So I think some degree of creativity, or willingness to embrace the creativity, having the basics of the analysis down, and then I think genuine curiosity. The fact is, like I said before, I believe it's a luxury that you can pursue things that you're interested in, go rooting around. I've been rooting around in some really random places, I've turned up at industry-specific conferences, where I'm the only investor there and I'm so far out of my depth. It's actually unbelievable. But I get to listen to experts talk about things. So I think that natural curiosity of: "Well, I just want to learn more. I'm just interested to learn more, I need to understand." I think that's a really key skill to be able to have. And I think that some people, that's not who they are. They're not interested in doing all the ground research and if that's not who you are, then I'm not sure that maybe this is the job for you. But if that is who you are, if you're just desperate to be like how does that work? Or why does that happen? Then it's a great job for you to be in, because the parts of the job, they line up really well with your personality, and you'll actually just enjoy what you do.
Absolutely. Honestly, I think my favourite thing about the job is the fact that you literally get paid to learn cool stuff about the world for a living!
Yes, yeah, exactly.
How is that the case? Why are we getting paid for this? It is great. So yeah, I agree with you there. What would you say your typical working hours are?
Core hours, probably I would arrive in the office about 8:30am. And then leave at about 5pm. I have a bit of a lunch break, used to go out for a walk - Baillie give us offices in the centre of Edinburgh, so I used to go out for a walk at lunchtime. I wouldn't necessarily take an hour off, I mean, if you want to take an hour off, that's fine. There's not really much clock watching that goes on in the company that I work for. I'm not sure about other companies, I've never worked anywhere else so can't really make a comment about that.
Do you have any friends or anything? Because you know, you've watched shows on TV and you hear all these stories about these crazy hours that people in finance work. So it's obviously not your experience. Any thoughts? Maybe a bit more widely?
Yeah. Oh, I hope I have friends! I think I have friends, maybe they disagree I don't know. I have hobbies outside of work. I also have a family. I'm very keen that I would rather go home and then maybe on some days, do I put some work in in the evenings? Yeah, I do. It's not a requirement, nobody's asking me to, I just do. Because I'm interested or because I want to. But there are certainly lots of people who are like: "No, the end of my day is at this time and that's it." I still do ballet. I certainly don't spend my weekends working. I'm much more likely to be found at a play park than I am sitting at my PC on a weekend. So I do think that there are firms where there is more a culture of that. But I think they're probably on the way out now. I think that's probably more of a historical representation, rather than what it is in reality. I've seen that on The Wolf Of Wall Street or whatever. You watch a movie and you're like, "Oh, wow. Okay." And then yeah, I've spoken to many people in Edinburgh who work for investment firms, and nobody seems to be working at nine o'clock at night, let alone 12 o'clock at night. So yeah.
Before you started your role, is there anything that you wish that you had known?
No, I think it was of benefit that I sort of stumbled into it. I think I didn't have too many expectations of what it was like. I think it probably would be worth realising that it's definitely not like the sort of thing that you see portrayed on TV or in the movies. And if you think that that's a reason not to apply, I would encourage you to realise that's not what it's like - well it's not been my experience. So I definitely wouldn't go: "Oh, I don't think that's the culture for me. I'm not going to try that." Because when you actually go into a lot of these firms, they're not like that at all. So I think that it probably was a benefit to me that I hadn't watched The Wolf Of Wall Street before I applied for an investment role, because I probably would have been like: "Oh my god, I don't want to work somewhere like that. That's not really for me." But that's just not been my experience of what it's been like.
I think Kirsty that takes us perfectly on to the next section of what we're going to be discussing, which is all about myth busting. So in the next section, we're trying to tackle some of the stereotypes that are associated with our industry by using some challenging and I guess some controversial statements. We need you to answer if you think it's myth or fact. But feel free to talk around the subject, just help us understand why people might have taken on these stereotypes. And I think The Wolf Of Wall Street might be a really key one of how that's come to be. So first up: "Finance jobs, including investment management ones, are highly mathematical. And you would need to be absolutely amazing at maths in school to work in the industry." Myth or fact?
Definitely myth. I'm sure there are specific roles in finance, where if you are a whizz at maths, then they will be fantastic for you. But I think if you struggle or don't want to spend any time thinking about anything, even like a percentage, then maybe it's not the job for you, because you do need to do some basic maths. But I would say maths is maybe 5 to 10% of the research that I do. Yeah, you look at company accounts but actually a lot of it's not even to do with it. If you don't like adding and subtracting, it's probably not the job for you. Adding, subtracting and percentages, yeah, if you're not into that, then don't go into this job. But if you are happy with those kinds of things, then I think you'd be absolutely fine doing this. You will meet people, though, who are absolutely phenomenal at that kind of analysis. And they will create the most amazing model, valuation models of their companies that they look at and everything like that, but that's okay. That can be their skill set, that can be their competitive advantage, that can be where they generate their insight. That's not how I believe that I will generate my insight. And I think, like I said, in order to do this job, and if you want to do active investing, and you want to beat that benchmark, it's okay to do things differently. That's the whole point, you need to do things differently. So you arrive at a different point of view.
"Getting a job in finance, particularly investment management, is about who you know, not what you know." Myth or fact?
Myth. I didn't know anyone. Again, I think historically, probably true. I think maybe 30 years ago, that was probably the case. Then probably you saw that fizzle out since then. But yeah, I mean, everybody that I know, that works at the company that I work at, none of them got that job through anything but their own merit.
And Sophie, would you like to weigh in as someone who works in early careers? Anything about the robustness of the process, or something like that?
Definitely. I mean, I have spent a lot of the last few years working on doing exactly that, trying to get interns and grads to come into the industry. I really think that we do everything we can to try and make things robust. So that nepotism is something that is in the past and doesn't stop people coming into the industry now. I think something for me and the processes I've worked on, it's all about trying to create ways that people can succeed and really bring forward their best self. So it's not about having lots of hoops to jump through just to trick people or ask them questions to trip them up. It's about trying to create lots of different ways to find out what skills and what experiences people have, and how they can come in and fit into your organisation, into roles and really be successful within them. So I would definitely agree that you can come in. Even from my own perspective, I also joined knowing absolutely no one and not really knowing much of the industry, because I think that a lot now we are looking more at the potential that people have, rather than just what qualifications they've got or who they might have known.
So the next question is something you've already touched on. "Jobs in investment management help you to understand the world." Myth or fact?
I think that's definitely a fact. I think it helps you understand some things about the world better. It's certainly not going to answer all your questions, no job can. And you're always going to be learning. But I think it brings you a broader perspective on the world. You have to have opinions and thoughts on the world, whether that be in US equities: I think the US market's an extremely innovative market, extremely exciting market. And you have to have thoughts on maybe where do you believe the future of energy is? Is the future in oil? Or is it in solar? Or wind? Or are we going to all be driving electric cars, etc, etc. So I think it definitely helps you understand the world, but better. I wouldn't say it's going to help you understand the world. I think it's far too complicated a beast to be able to do that!
This next one is something I've definitely come across when speaking to young women at career fairs. So: "You need to be an aggressive, dominant female to succeed in investments." Is that a myth or a fact, Kirsty?
Oh, it's absolutely true....No it's an absolute myth! I think I'd add to that, that you don't need to be an alpha male to work in investment either, or finance in general. I think what you'll find is that that kind of behaviour is far less prominent than you'd even expect. I would say that it's still a male-dominated industry. And that's not to say that females shouldn't apply, females should be applying. But I work on a team of eight people, and there are two females and six males. And that's fine. We're progressing and we're moving towards more females, but it is a much more male-dominated industry. But I don't think that you have to be an alpha female in the slightest. I think a lot more is achieved when everybody, females, males, everybody supports each other and tries to progress each other and push each other on. Ultimately, it's about how we can do the best for our clients. Sometimes that means that you make decisions that maybe don't benefit you, and that benefit clients or benefit your team. And you're last in that totem pole there, you are at the bottom. But ultimately, sometimes the best thing for our clients is to put yourself last and that's the decision that you have to make. Regardless of whether you're male, female, alpha or not alpha.
Well, hopefully your feedback and mythbusting is going to help change the dynamics of some of the teams you work in. And we will see more of a gender balance going forward.
Yeah! Some of the teams are actually, there are more females than there are males. It's just the one I happen to work on isn't. But I think it's all about diversity of thought. And regardless of gender or background, that you bring something different to a team. And I think one of the ways that you do do that is by ensuring that you have diversity in terms of people's backgrounds, people's upbringings, people's genders, people's race, I think everybody brings a different perspective for that reason. And that's one of the reasons why having diverse teams in investment management is is hugely powerful thing to have. But that's also why we hire people from lots of different degree backgrounds, because again they bring a completely different perspective, it's another way of bringing perspective just layering on those differences. And if you can layer those really effectively, then I think you can have a really powerful, diverse, different way of thinking about the world. And that's going to be really useful in an industry like Investment Management.
I think it's great because so many people from the outside looking in see one model person, one model career path. And it's great that you come back to this theme of difference and embracing difference and it being a strength. So yeah, I hope that resonates with the people listening for sure. "You don't need people skills to work in investments." Myth or fact?
Somewhere in the middle? It's probably more towards a myth that it is a fact. But it's not to say that you have to be the person who's like: "Yes, I love standing up in front of hundreds of people delivering a presentation, I am right in there." No, that is not me. Like I said, I'm slightly terrified about doing this! Never mind doing something in front of hundreds of people! But the thing I think you need to be comfortable with is being able to effectively communicate to others, maybe not loads and loads of people but your views and why your insights. And be able to influence as a consequence. So particularly when you're an analyst in the role, you can't buy things for the portfolio, you need to convince an investment manager or influence an investment manager to buy what you're interested in. And so I think there's people skill required there, in terms of being able to work with others, to talk with others, to influence them. But I don't think that you need to be like out there saying: "Yes, I absolutely want to do every single presentation under the sun. And I feel entirely comfortable and confident in those things." One, they are things that you practice and you learn to get a little bit more confident with. But also we're really lucky at Baillie Gifford, we have a client department, the investors. We do interact with clients, but our client department deals with the brunt of the client interactions, client questions, queries, even presenting on the funds. And that makes a huge difference that we can spend an awful lot more time focusing on the investment side. Yeah, so I'd say myth. But it's not to say that if you like to work all day, in a room on your own, it's probably not the job for you either.
So the next question is: "With jobs in finance you just sit in front of an Excel spreadsheet all day, every day." Myth or fact?
Myth. I probably opened an Excel spreadsheet twice last week? Possibly didn't open one at all the week before. So no, definitely a myth. I think there are parts of the job where you probably would use one, when maybe you're looking at the financials of a business or you're trying to do evaluation or something like that. But I would say that, again, coming back to this idea of outperforming other people and doing things differently, if the historic viewpoint is that you sit in front of an Excel spreadsheet, then the way you're going to have a different point of view is to not sit in front of an Excel spreadsheet. Because you're staring at the same numbers as everybody else. And so, we actively encourage people to get out and about. To go on trips, to go and visit companies, to spend time with people in academia, spend time with experts in their field, spend time with company management teams, just learning and absorbing. So say, I'd spend more of my time talking to CEOs and talking to companies that I do sitting with an Excel spreadsheet open. I do spend an awful lot of time reading - blogs, news, company annual reports, company documents all that kind of thing. But it's more the reading side that I spend a lot of time doing, rather than the analytical mathematical crunching numbers.
Thank you so much! That brings us on to our final section, which is called Looking Forward. And essentially, we're going to try and give Beth some specific advice to help her get to where you are today.
So why should I join the investment management industry?
Okay, so in what other careers could you be talking to the CEO of a social media giant or electric car company one day, and then the founder of a potentially transformational treatment for Alzheimer's or cancer the next? You know, it's a job that's going to get you out of bed in the morning, because it's exciting and it's interesting, and there's something new. And I think it's a really great career for anyone who is genuinely curious about the world, who enjoys variety. And who's really willing to embrace uncertainty and challenge with creativity and zeal. Yeah, does that answer the question? Am I convincing you?
It definitely sounds like something I'd love to do!
I guess following down that path: So you've got her sold on the industry. But why would Beth want to work in US equities in
So I'm obviously totally biased. I believe that the two most exciting markets in the world globally are China and the US. In terms of, you think about where the majority of the innovation in the world has either come from the US, or is coming from the US, and China. Those are the markets that I think are delivering the most exciting companies, and I feel really blessed to spend my time looking at them. I would say, though, I've given you the hard sell about why I really, really like these markets. But I think usually, if you apply for a job in investment management, that I wouldn't go in with too much of a set mind as to what area or part you would be interested in working in. Because I think one of the things is: you just don't know until you try it. And it might be that you think the most exciting market in the world for you, is the Japanese market or the European market. Or you think that commodities are the most exciting asset class you could possibly invest in. So for me, I work in the area that I think is most exciting. But I'm not sure that that's necessarily the case for everybody else, I wouldn't close your mind off before you even start. The big thing is keep in mind that this is a really exciting and interesting industry to work in. And hopefully beyond that, the rest of it works itself out as you're going through it.
So you've got us sold on the industry and you've got us sold on US equities. Now, why should Beth join Baillie Gifford instead of another great firm down the road? And Sophie and I will keep quiet!
I'd probably say that.... I've only ever worked for Baillie Gifford. Clearly, the fact that I'm still here tells you how much I like it. And I love my job, but I also love working for Baillie Gifford. I think one of Baillie Gifford's greatest strengths.... So we are long term investors and that means we invest over a 5 - 10 year horizon. And as I said before, in those 5 - 10 years, there can be a lot of uncertainty, there can be a lot of bumps along the road. You can look wrong for a very long period of time and then not being right, or you can end up not being right at all, or you can end up being right from the beginning or etc, etc. And I think one of Baillie Gifford's greatest strengths is it's a privately held partnership and as a consequence of that, we are extremely lucky that we have long term partners in the business. So we don't have to report every quarter about how the company is doing. We don't feel the pressure to deliver in the short term, because we know that the way the company is run is run for the long term. And because we are long term investors, both of those parts are aligned. I think that's a really powerful firm to be a part of. Because I think that there are firms out there that it probably is quite difficult to be long term in the way you invest. When you're feeling the constant pressure to deliver on your numbers and ensure that: "Am I delivering profitability this quarter, oh no some of my stocks have gone down, oh I must panic about that". I think the way Baillie Gifford is structured affords us the flexibility to be able to not panic when things are not necessarily going our way and be able to take our time to decide, is this because something has gone wrong? Or is this because there's just a feeling from others that this stock is not delivering as what they'd expected? But in the long term, we still believe in that long term investment case. I think the structure of the company allows you to do that. It's also I should say, I have really lovely colleagues and I really enjoy working there. It's a really, really good business. They very much take care of the people that they work for. I mean, on Friday, just Friday past, we would normally have our annual dinner dance, and obviously this year, that's not happened. So instead, we had a virtual dinner dance. So if you signed up, your three course meal plus canopies and cocktails were shipped to your door. I mean, we had to reheat it in the oven. And then there was an evening of like cabaret entertainment that was put on. So it's little things like that, it's a really enjoyable company to be a part of.
So now that you've persuaded me to do US equities, what three pieces of advice would you give me to get to where you are today?
Oh, that's quite tough. The first one is, keep your options open. I think it's Sheryl Sandberg, she's the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook. And she says careers are a jungle gym, they're not a ladder. You know, you should be happy swinging around in various areas and not trying to climb to the top all the time, you should be doing things that help you improve, and you will make your way to the top over time. But it's all about keeping your options open and, and realising that some things might not suit you, and that's absolutely fine. I think the second thing, and this is like a bit of a thing I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about. Which is, I think you have to be willing to fail, and to learn from it. So I'm not talking about exams, I don't think it's a good idea to deliberately fail your school exams, and then say: "well, I've learned stuff from it!" So I'm not suggesting that, so please nobody who's listening believe that that's what I'm suggesting! But I think as a consequence of the way our school system works, I think that because we feel pressure to pass exams, I think we feel pressure in not failing, and we don't want to fail, and humans don't want to fail. And that's fine. But it's realising how much you can learn from it. I hate the idea that somebody wouldn't apply for a job because they're worried about not getting it. I feel like if you're so fearful of failing at something that you don't even try, you just don't know what opportunities you're losing out on as a consequence. You know, I tried to be a ballerina. I totally failed at that! In terms of the fact that I'm an investment manager. I mean, if you're going to say that you failed at something, that you wanted to be a ballerina, and you ended up working in finance, I think that's a pretty epic fail. But I don't regret trying because I learned so much through trying. And I think I would have regretted it more by not trying. And saying, what if, what if, what if? Particularly, if I'd ended up in a job I hated. I would've been like, "I would have been so much happier if I'd done this, if I'd done that." Even applying for Baillie Gifford, I genuinely applied and I didn't really know what the job was. So there was a really quite high chance that I wasn't going to succeed at that as well! But I reached that point where I think you just have to embrace that chance of failure. And it's quite hard when you've been at school where failure is often something that's like: "well, you don't want to fail, you want to do as well as possible." But it's better to fail fast and quite frequently in small things and not fail in the big things. Then I think my final piece of advice is: my mantra is be nice and work hard. And it served me pretty well so far. And I think it's really important coming back to that point about alpha females and do people run around stabbing each other with their stilettos and all that kind of stuff. And I think that, you know, being nice is not hard. You'd hope it's not a hardship for people to just be nice to others, and working hard. I truly believe that the job and the place that I work is a meritocracy. If you work hard and you are nice, you will rise up. And maybe you don't rise up as fast as other people. But maybe you don't mind because you've done it with integrity. So those are my three things not biggies or anything, they're all nice and simple!
Well you've been nice enough to come on our podcast and worked hard to persuade Beth to join the industry. All I can say is a massive thank you for both of those.
Well, thank you very much for having me. And I can say that I tried this, I hopefully haven't failed at it! Then you decide not to publish it... But you know, this is the perfect example of I think coming out of school, I probably would have said no to something like this. Whereas I think I've reached a point in my life and career when I was like: "oh go on then!"
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 Catch you next episode. And just a quick reminder about the investment management glossary that you can find via the Breaking Through Careers website. Also, if you enjoyed this episode and would like to see us back for another season, please drop us a review on iTunes. See you next episode!