A Little Bit of What You Fancy? Suit You, Sir!

GemCap UK and Group CEO Stuart Alexander on eating calf’s foot – and the importance of taking risks and stepping out of the comfort zone for fund managers.

I am currently working in France and enjoying all the benefits that a beautiful country like France can offer whilst attending the various management meetings, board meetings, investment review meetings and a host of other “fun” jobs that I do these days. I consider myself very lucky in that I can choose where I work from, and I am also supported by a great bunch of people in Dublin and London who make it all work for me as well as providing me with a different view from the office.

Many of those who know me through work will see me as very conservative person; occasionally I have some strong views, particularly around distribution, and I may come across as someone who is set in their ways. In reality I do like an adventure, and I do like to take a risk in life, work, play and occasionally when it comes to food. However, this week I surpassed myself!

Being in France, the quality and range of foods is exceptional and I am a big fan, so I decided to try something new and something that, quite honestly, I regretted from the minute I decided on. Even the server looked at me as if to say, “Are you sure?”.

I chose Pied de Veau; those who are either French-speaking or have a smattering of French vocabulary in their repertoire will instantly recognise that as Calf’s Foot. A glutinous mass of jelly with a texture of lots of oysters but with the taste of offal. In short, bloody awful. The photos of me looking like I was about to re-share the “Foot” were shared on the family WhatsApp to great delight from the offspring. 😊

Suffice to say that is an experience that I don’t care to repeat any day soon.

But it begs the question to all of us as to how far we are prepared to take a risk, to do something outside our comfort zone, to take a leap of faith or to try something we are not used to. In business it is often cited that we work in a Business As Usual (BAU) mode for the best part of the week, but for many others who work in a dynamic and entrepreneurial business the idea of doing something different is all part of the fun, the challenge and the excitement and ultimately it is why we do it.

When we meet fund managers who want to launch a fund on our platform, we want to see the same thing. We want them to be excited about the idea, we want them to go beyond their comfort zone (compliance aside) and we want them to think differently, so that they stand out from the crowd. Sadly, not all fund managers are like that and that’s fine, it’s their choice – but it makes life somewhat difficult when it comes to raising assets if you are not prepared to go out on a limb and sound different in the ever more competitive marketplace. In short:

  • Some fund managers don’t like marketing
  • Some don’t like sales
  • Some don’t like meeting potential investors
  • Some don’t travel very well
  • Some can’t present their strategy
  • Some don’t come across well
  • Some are not prepared to learn from their mistakes
  • And some just don’t get it.

But – and it’s a big but – unless you are prepared to accept the fact that you may have to go out of your comfort zone and embrace the differences between how you see things and how the world may see them, then sadly you will always be the best performing fund manager, but with no assets to manage.

Some years ago, I worked with a manager who anyone would describe as a social and somewhat anxious introvert. His brain was the size of a small planet, and he certainly knew his stuff, but he just couldn’t get it across – or rather he didn’t want to. After much cajoling and encouragement, he eventually agreed to a face-to-face meeting with a client which, despite some initial misgivings, he actually enjoyed. Fast forward 12 months and you couldn’t stop him. He was at my desk asking when he would be out again with the sales team and what could he do to help. It worked both sides; we got a manager who was keen to go out and he got confident in his presenting skills. At his own admission he was delighted he had overcome his resistance and he now knew the value that was added by his addition to the sales tasks for the firm. He got it.

So, if you are unsure about how to overcome those hurdles then ask yourself the following:

  • Do I need to do this?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What’s the problem?
  • Do I need help?
  • Who can help me?

Once you know the answers to these then hopefully you should be able to take the next steps and embrace your differences, and see it as a positive challenge that should be taken on with relish. Before you know it, you will be taking on whole new challenges and you never know, you might end up eating the equivalent of a calf’s foot. Good luck!

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