QOTD: In praise of a little Organizational Dysfunction

The inimitable David Snowball looks ahead to 2015 and sees the potential for a new trend in mutual fund management – the need for a bit of friction within an organization to stand out…

From the Mutual Fund Observer, January 1st 2015 edition:

a lot of hedge funds folded in 2014, mainly for reasons of performance. I expect that trend to spread to mutual funds in 2015, especially those that are at best marginally profitable. Some of this is a function of having the usual acquiring firms (or stooges, as one investment banker friend calls them) – the Europeans – absent from the merger and acquisition trail. Given the present relationship of the dollar and the Euro, I don’t expect that trend to change soon. But I also expect funds to close just because the difficulty of outperforming in a world where events, to paraphrase Senator Warren, are increasingly rigged, is almost impossible. In a world of instant gratification, that successful active management is as much an art as a science should be self-evident. There is something in the process of human interaction which I used to refer to as complementary organizational dysfunction that produces extraordinary results, not easily replicable. And it involves more than just investment selection on the basis of reversion to the mean.

One example of genius would be Thomas Jefferson, dining alone, or Warren Buffet, sitting in his office, reading annual reports.  A different example would be the 1927 Yankees or the Fidelity organization of the 1980’s. In retrospect what made them great is easy to see. My advice to people looking for great active management today – look for organizations without self-promotion, where individuals do not seek out to be the new “It Girl” and where the organizations focus on attracting curious people with inquiring but disciplined minds, so that there ends up being a creative, dynamic tension. Avoid organizations that emphasize collegiality and consensus. In closing, let me remind you of that wonderful scene where Orson Welles, playing Harry Lime in The Third Man says, “… in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Maybe that was Pimco’s true secret sauce all these years – until the pot boiled over.


Mutual Fund Observer

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