Leaders List: 60 second interview with Jerry Thomas, Sarasin & Partners

Date: 20 Apr 2021

Bumblebee Design

Citywealth spoke to Jerry Thomas, head of global equities at Sarasin & Partners about the importance of teamwork, and embedding ESG analysis in the investment process.

Tell us about your role

I am fortunate to lead the global equity team at Sarasin & Partners. The team analyses and invests in the shares of global companies on behalf of our clients. Our clients are typically charities, endowments, institutions and wealthy individuals. I joined Sarasin in 2016 and I am responsible for the investment process, our clients’ portfolios and a team of 17 investors. All members of the team undertake investment research, and most are involved in managing a specific investment portfolio. My particular areas of interest are the Automation mega-theme and stocks in our Low Carbon Transport theme within our Climate Change mega-theme. Our research fully integrates the environmental, social and responsible (ESG) aspects of a company and as an analyst we lead on all engagements with our companies. Examples of the companies I cover include Alstom, the rail equipment company, and Shimano, which manufactures bicycle components. I co-manage the Sarasin Responsible Global Equity Fund and the Sarasin Global Dividend Fund. In total Sarasin & Partners has approximately $17bn invested in equities on behalf of our clients.

What’s the one thing potential clients should know about you and your team

We are a team, not just a collection of people who work together. Since I joined Sarasin, the team has grown, and we’ve had the opportunity to reshape our approach and develop our own culture. The team is now too large to sit around a single desk and share ideas or challenge each other’s views, both of which are essential in an investment process. Working from home remotely presented an additional challenge, of course. As a result, we have adopted what we call a ‘Team of Teams’, partially inspired by a book of the same name by US General Stanley McChrystal. For every stock we analyse, portfolio we manage, or challenge we face, we create a team of 2 to 5 people to work together to produce the optimal outcome. This improves agility, allows me to target the most appropriate talent to the task, but most importantly reinforces a sense of teamwork and trust. Sarasin is not a place for ‘star’ fund managers, and we celebrate our successes as a team.

Tell us more about the Responsible Global Equity Fund?

The Sarasin Responsible Global Equity Fund invests in between 35 and 50 high quality global companies. Each of these companies generates growth in revenues and cashflows as a result of one of our five mega-themes of Digitalisation, Automation, Ageing, Evolving Consumption or Climate Change. Our goal is to grow and protect our clients’ capital in a way that is aligned with a sustainable society. We embed ESG analysis in the investment process and demand that the companies we invest in are managed responsibly by engaging directly with the boards of those companies. The fund will not invest in companies in the oil and gas or tobacco industries, for example. Areas of particular interest to us are renewable energy, data and analytics, cloud computing, electric vehicles, diet and nutrition or digital payments. The fund is actively managed, but we seek to keep portfolio turnover and a take a long-term view of the themes and companies we invest in.

What challenges do your clients face and how are you helping your clients overcome them?

Investors are increasingly aware of the social and environmental impacts of companies but are unsure how to invest in a way that seeks to minimise harm whilst delivering good long-term risk adjusted returns. The investment industry is good at inventing a myriad of terms whether it be responsible investing, sustainability, stewardship, ESG, CSR or impact and these tend to overlap and confuse. We set out a clear investment process, source our ideas from investment themes that are aligned with a sustainable society, and press our companies to improve. In recent years our investment performance has more than met our clients’ expectations.

What is your most memorable work moment?

The investment industry is rightly judged on its investment performance. However, our complete focus is on the investment process that leads to that outcome, and not the performance itself. The greatest moments come when the team shares the success of a great stock idea, but particularly so when we have a differentiated investment case that plays out in a way that we anticipated. Examples from the last few years include our investments in Deere & Co, Zebra Technologies or ASML.

Who do you most admire and why?

Investing successfully over long periods of time is hugely competitive. Investors I admire, amongst others, include Seth Klarman, Howard Marks or Stanley Druckenmiller. What ties these people together is that they are honest about their decisions because they write about them with great clarity ahead of time. Despite their success and experience they are always willing to learn and adapt, they acknowledge the role of luck, and they are prepared to help others become better investors.

Away from investing I have a passion for road cycling. Geraint Thomas is a professional road cyclist who has spent much of his career in the service of others and coped with a fair share of bad luck. However, when his moment came, he took it, winning the Tour de France in 2018, the toughest professional sporting event there is.

If you weren’t in the wealth management industry, what else might you be doing?

I studied politics at A Level and PPE at university, so a career in government has always interested me, but probably as a civil servant rather than an elected politician. I actually spent my early working years in the British Army, so I could have continued to serve, although I would be fast approaching the military’s retirement age now and looking for a new challenge. Ultimately, I am fascinated by companies, so I suspect I would have eventually found a role helping to manage and grow a business from the inside. As a fund manager we are constantly trying to understand companies as well as possible, but there is always a slight insecurity of being observers and critics rather than true industrialists.