On Founding Plantingfield: Start With Why

by Kevin e. Meier, CFA

I answer a lot of question about our business; who we are, what we do, where we do it, when did we start. But very rarely do I get asked why. And that, perhaps, is the most important question.
 
Of course, on the surface it seems fairly obvious. The goal of a business, any business, is to make money; and this is especially true for an investment business, which makes money for itself by making money for its clients (in theory, anyway). But the goal really isn't the reason unto itself.  No, this is why:
 
I started my business, this specific business, because I believe in what it can do. Please, do not let the simplicity, or even banality, of that statement belie its meaning. That belief ignited a passion and purpose within me. I know what this can do for me, and I know what it can do for my clients. And I took a leap of faith.
 
If you know me, you know that I have a hard time believing in things.  In fact, I am far more likely to argue against someone's viewpoint, than argue in favor of my own.  I am sure there are plenty of explanations for this behavior, but it is certainly not because I don’t want to believe in something. In fact, just the opposite.  I have been looking for something to truly believe for my entire life, or at least for as long as I can remember.  
 
I think the heart of the matter is that a firm belief system helps to us make sense of things, which is exactly what I have always tried to do.   Well, the way that I am approaching investing for my clients, and what that approach can do for them, makes complete sense to me. It is something I have been thinking about and researching for nearly ten years, implementing and refining for the past six, first on paper, in my own portfolio,  for close family and friends, and finally for clients.
 
I believe that no one knows for sure what is going to happen in the world’s markets, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t tell you and me.  And since we do not know what is going to happen, we need to invest in at least some strategies that are not dependent on the market for their performance.  These types of investments can make money in different market conditions, when traditional investments cannot; and this independence from the market and from other investments adds true diversification to a portfolio, lowering its overall risk (unlike a “diversified” portfolio of stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs which all carry a high degree of market risk). True diversification is a hard thing to find, especially these days, as we have seen with  many different assets classes becoming correlated with each other, usually at the very worst time (see stocks and bonds, your traditional portfolio mix), 

But I am not arguing against other methods or even trying to replace them; there is merit in owning all types. And I will certainly discuss the merits of equity ownership in the future.  What I am saying is that my method makes the most sense to me, and that adding it to an existing portfolio, in any size, makes that portfolio better.  To me, that’s compelling.
 
In certain fields like investment management, it might feel a bit funny to talk about why people do what they do, perhaps because it seems so obvious.  But for people in other lines of work, the question feels completely appropriate.  Ask a teacher, for instance, and I am fairly certain they will be unfazed by the question, readily explaining that they are making a difference, that they are doing something meaningful, or that they are profoundly helping people.
 
I have been a teacher, and I certainly felt those things.  But I also felt that there was a different way I could make a difference, to do something meaningful and to help the people and institutions that meant the most to me; I just didn’t know what it is was yet.  I do now.  Like a teacher who arms her students with the tools they will need to achieve their goals, chase their dreams, and ultimately live successful lives, I feel like I am providing my clients with a much different, but just as important tool that they can use to do the very same things.  I admit, it feels almost vulgar on the face of it, to extol investment management in this way.  But if I can help someone maintain and build upon their financial resources, and these resources enable them to achieve their goals and set greater ones, then there is meaning in that.  And if I can do it in a better way that they can otherwise get, then that is making a difference.  
 
I realize that this is touchy feely, and when we strip away the sentiment there are serious issues to consider.  After all, this is about people’s lives and livelihoods, their futures and the families’ futures.  I have struggled with the notion of asking people to entrust me with their money, both those who I don't know and even more so those I do.  I take those concerns very seriously.  But if you were a teacher, would you withhold your abilities and your lessons from those who needed you because of those concerns? Or would you give them your very best with the faith that it will do for them what you believe it will?
 
I don’t want or intend to build a vast financial empire that is rewarded for how many clients it collects and how many assets it manages.  Instead, I want to build a career based on how well I serve my clients, a relatively small collection of people who believe in what I am doing and how it can help them. My job is to manage assets, not gather them, and this is the best way that I know how to do it, the way that makes the most sense to me.