We may be flattering ourselves to think that anyone will get this far but, for those that struggled through, congratulations are probably in order. And there they are, the Nomad Letters, our magnum opus (or, having read them, some might prefer “magnificent octopus” as Baldrick’s malapropism goes in Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder series). Those that wish to read more (we are definitely flattering ourselves) can do so in William Green’s book “Richer, Wiser, Happier”. William has written the kind of book that we would love to have written but know that we lack the requisite skills. We are sure you will enjoy the read.
When we wrote the December 2013 letter, we did not know that it would be our last but, a few months later, the portfolio had been liquidated, funds returned to our partners and on we go. We did not like that final phase one bit: selling stakes built up over years felt wrong, the clients were grace itself but, even so, it is still an awkward conversation to take something away from someone, especially people that you like, and there was the administrative headaches of winding up an operation. Psychologically it all felt wrong.
So, why did we close? With big decisions like that there is often a mixture of forces pushing and pulling: The direction of regulation was certainly irksome and the tools of regulation unnecessarily blunt but, also, we wanted to feel that we did not have to justify actions, and inactions, on an ongoing basis to a revolving door of interested parties. We also felt we had wrung all that we could out of the investment process and to continue would have been to rinse and repeat, as it were. After all, we had what we needed, just a few superb businesses and we were unlikely to sell any of those to fund the purchase of another cigar butt, Philippine cement company, were we? The pull was the prospect of independence and a new adventure, this time working out how to recycle the funds for others to benefit. We wound up at an age (mid 40s) when it forced us to build something new (you can’t sit on the beach forever) and, hopefully, we would live long enough to also see the consequences of our actions; we would have to eat our own cooking, as it were. Previous generations that retired in old age and died soon after, have not always had that opportunity. And, as we said in the preamble, we have not entirely left investing behind either.
Many of the successful and wealthy people we know are a little mystified by what the money really means. Investors can think their way to success without seeming to work in the traditional sense and the payoff in capitalism from stock picking can be extraordinary. It is one thing for capital allocators to be rewarded for their efforts but, in our opinion, taking personal identity in everything above X-amount is not a route to building a better world. We suspect that if you made it to the end of our letters, then you are one of the good guys and know that already. If good investing is a minority sport, then good philanthropy is a minority sport for those that do minority sports. Our band could do with moving from the fringes of society to becoming the norm. We hope you will join us on the journey.
Nick Sleep and Qais Zakaria, Spring 2021.