Why it Matters How You Play the Game–Particularly in Investment Management

Alpha Strategies 16 Jul 2012

I am a business owner, a competitive athlete, and a contributing member of society.  I’ve owned my marketing firm for more than ten years, been playing and competing in sports my entire life, and have been a taxpayer and volunteer for decades.  Having spent a considerable amount of time at these endeavors, I feel qualified to share some observations about these separate ventures in making a positive impact on others, including how it pertains to the investment management industry.

A leader naturally wants to be first: to finish ahead of the competition, to define the farthest reaches of the current landscape, and to bring followers along for the ride to a better place.  It’s occupied by the record breakers in sports, the entrepreneurs in business, and the innovators in society.  It is also incumbent upon the striver to achieve success within the context of fairness—to win by achievement, rather than duplicity.  With that context in mind,  I’d like to offer a few key points about making an impact which I believe are constructive to those of us who serve the investment community, whether that be through direct or indirect participation in wealth management and investment performance.

—Sportsmanship relates to the overall balance between being competitive and being fair.  It means knowing the rules, playing within the boundaries, but pushing the envelope.  As the world looks forward to the 2012 Olympics in London this month, amid all the challenges and trials of our geopolitical economic situation, it’s one of the primary reasons why society applauds the efforts and strivings of individuals from all stages of life when they come together to compete amidst a spirit of common goals and a great desire to be the first, the best, the only.

It is human nature to want to win, but equally important to do so within a context of defined and accepted rules—to be recognized as a success for besting the rest through a predetermined framework.  It’s the reason why millions will tune into the sporting competitions—track and field, soccer, swimming, equestrian, whatever—to watch individuals execute their skill to the best of their abilities against the best in the world at the discipline, and to root unabashedly for their favorites.  People want to associate with a winner whether or not they personally participate in a specific activity.  Fans are fans regardless of race, language, economic position, or age.  Everyone loves a winner.

—This too requires a communal buy-in as it pertains to the value of your economic output.  Do you provide a service that is wanted?  Do you produce a product that others value in great measure?  Are you creating a new dimension or contribution to the current business landscape that adds to the overall offerings desired by the majority?  In the world of investment management, these perceptions count for as much as actual performance, even, at times, more.

Investors want to ally themselves with a winner—someone who bests the competition, but who also represents the highest levels of integrity and aligned interests with the community at large.  A winner by deceit or subterfuge is a pale substitute for the winner who outshines the rest through widely accepted terms: performance measurements, risk management, exceptional service, and accessibility.  Building a reputation for success in business can be likened to good sportsmanship in many ways.  Knowing the rules, playing within the boundaries, but pushing the envelope all work equally well in the world of investment management as in sports.  And, not surprisingly, investors consistently show their love for a winner.

-It’s not enough to be good at what you do or offer.  You should want to be respected as an individual or a company as well.  In traditional marketing parlance, this is referred to as ‘good will,’ and indeed, such a quality is even awarded a specific value on the balance sheet when evaluating a company’s assets and liabilities.

Good will, or perception/reputation/value-add, is an important commodity in the definition of success.  It can help you build on current positive momentum in your business, and it can help you ride out a nasty period of underperformance or personal scandal in your overall contributions to your sphere of influence.  Conduct yourself and your business with the highest standards, and make it a point to be a positive influence where you can, and you will create a cushion of good will that can help you bolster your business performance over the long run.

Another aspect of being good citizen filters down to your individual conduct as well.  Be a good boss—mentor your subordinates and colleagues, encourage others to follow suit, and reward efforts that contribute to this behavior.  Devote some personal time to causes that are meaningful to you.  Focus on your immediate family and friends, participate in community and national causes that resonate with your values, and find ways to matter outside of business.  Being a good citizen reinforces your ties to the community at large and creates a stronger bond between you and those you impact on a personal and professional basis.  In short, it increases your personal accountability channels, which helps fuel your drive to succeed.

So as the world settles in to watch the 2012 Olympic games this month in London, observe the individuals and teams who labor to achieve excellence, and how the various competitions provide some lessons on how to be a winner in business as well.  It’s not just the results that count, but how the game was played that resonates with people long after the scores are tallied.

Diane Harrison is principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, a marketing communications firm founded in 2002 and specializing in a wide range of strategy and writing services within the alternative assets sector.  She has over 20 years’ of expertise in hedge fund marketing, investor relations, sales collateral, and a variety of thought leadership deliverables. A published author and speaker, Ms. Harrison’s work has appeared in many industry publications, both in print and on-line. Contact: dharrison@panegyricmarketing.com or visit www.panegyricmarketing.com.

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