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CIOs: Lone Hikers Who Should Befriend the Mountain Code!


Recently, I embarked on a thrilling 9-day solo hiking adventure in Norway’s Naustdal Municipality. While I had dabbled in alpine climbing during my younger years — enough to conquer Mt. Cook and Mt. Aspiring in New Zealand — this solo hiking escapade uncovered a whole new world of managed excitement for me. The 151km I hiked solo and the 5000m I climbed not only honed my hiking skills but also promised to inject a dose of self-discipline into my role as a Chief Investment Officer (CIO). Here are some solo hiking lessons that I want to share with my fellow CIOs. I hope it will help you in achieving your objectives and effectively leading your team.



The modern CIO is expected to excel in communicating with the stakeholders and stewards governing the portfolio, overseeing the operational aspects of investing, while also achieving the required risk, return, and impact goals through their people and processes. This position endows the CIO with significant power, accompanied by substantial responsibility but also a high a degree of loneliness. It has been said that CIO’s must be pleasant to all but friend to none.


While executing your investment responsibilities, whether you are the CIO of a single asset class strategy, a multi-asset pension fund, or a multi-stakeholder sovereign wealth fund, I suggest you (and your team) consider viewing each investment as a challenging hike. Like any investment, each nature hike exists in its exclusive terrain, endures certain weather conditions, presents distinctive risks, demands and then strengthen certain skills, calls for specific endurance, has varying definitions of success, teaches practical lessons for the future, but most of all provides indescribable satisfaction upon completion or humility when abandoned.   


If each investment is like a hike, then you as CIO often treated as a solo hiker. You frequently get parachuted in by your team, a consultant, or an external manager to evaluate the performance (their journey) on that investment. As CIO you need to decide if the final goal has been achieved; if not, assess whether the current path remains the correct one and whether the associated risks still justify the effort. If you are off course, decide whether to retrace your steps to find a new path or to call it a day. Evaluate if you (and, by extension, your team) are prepared to handle changing conditions, determine who should lead if you are unable to, and decide whether to proceed further or embark on a new hike in different terrain upon success. As a CIO, you must address these questions daily, just as a solo hiker does.


Therefore, I believe like solo hikers, CIOs must have self-discipline in bucketloads. 


To begin, I propose introducing the Norwegian Fjellvettreglene (Mountain Code) to your investment team. This set of nine hiking principles serves as a valuable framework for instilling disciplined risk management practices and fostering a culture that encourages calculated risk-taking. These guidelines offer practical insights and reminders aimed at enhancing your team's capabilities and your effectiveness as a CIO in making informed investment decisions. At the very least, they may inspire a newfound appreciation for personal enrichment through outdoor exploration.


For my fellow CIOs, following are 5 insights that I can offer from my own solo hikes that go deeper than the mountain code mentioned above. These insights are intended to foster greater self-discipline in my approach to investing.


 #1 – Being Present & Reduce Distractions – Throughout each solo hike, I dedicated myself to sustaining concentration and minimizing distractions, whether from the present scenery, memories of past hikes, or expectations for the future. When not yet at journey's end, I would pause briefly to acknowledge progress, then promptly redirect my focus to navigating the path ahead and completing the hike. Similarly, as CIOs, we confront a multitude of external pressures and past experiences, each potentially diverting attention from the current investment decision. Hence, maintaining mindfulness and staying fully engaged during every hike parallels the essential focus required for sound investment judgments. This is a critical skill your team expects of you.


#2 – Take Direction but Not Instruction - Not always in other’s footsteps.

The completion of some of my challenging hikes would not have been possible without encountering and following trail markers or cairns thoughtfully left by fellow hikers. These markers, whether painted on the ground, tree trunks, wooden stakes, or stacks of rocks, are typically placed where the trail becomes unclear or presents numerous options. As CIOs, we frequently seek analogous guidance on our investment’s performance from peers. It's easy to misconstrue others success as benchmarks to emulate and thus replicate their strategies. During my hikes, I used the markers left by previous hikers as guides but not as “must touch” milestones. Even with these markers, I had to ensure that my next steps were appropriate given the current conditions of the hike, which inevitably differed from those encountered by the previous hikers. While using others' successes as navigational aids is prudent, expecting identical steps to achieve similar outcomes can lead one astray.


#3 – Speed is Not Always Your Friend – Although I was initially inexperienced with Norwegian hikes, by the eighth day, I had become familiar with the terrain, complexities, and weather challenges. Despite this, my daily hikes continued to take the same amount of time, as I had established a disciplined pattern of hike, stop, review, hydrate and hike. This approach stemmed from earlier instances during the trip when hasty hiking phases resulted in bruises, cuts, and yes a few “Oh Sh@t” moments. As investors, while time remains a critical consideration, for most CIOs, success is not measured solely by speed but by the safe attainment of objectives and milestones.


 #4 – Don’t let Fatigue Affect Your Decision – Achieving success in solo hiking hinges on understanding one's personal endurance limits. Recognizing the threshold where physical fatigue impairs decision-making can be crucial, as a solo hiker's safety often hangs in the balance. Fortunately, as CIOs, our decisions do not carry life-or-death consequences, yet recognizing when investment patience wanes and compromises decision-making is a skill many lack. This underscores the importance of delegation in critical moments, a luxury unavailable to solo hikers.


#5 – Exciting is not Always Rewarding – Apart from the enjoyment derived during each hike, the sense of reward and fulfilment upon completion varies significantly. Some of the most exhilarating hikes, featuring stunning vistas and demanding terrain, culminated in more fatigue than satisfaction, whereas seemingly mundane paths and straightforward routes often ended remarkably. As CIOs, there is no imperative to hastily pursue novel and stimulating opportunities merely for outward appearance. Significant rewards can be found in ventures that others may overlook or deem unremarkable.


The above mentioned five lessons represent just a few of the lessons I gathered from my hiking experiences, which I believe can enhance my effectiveness as a CIO. One lesson, encapsulated in Rule 8 of the Mountain Code—'Don’t be ashamed to turn around'—merits special attention.  This principle is particularly challenging for CIOs to internalize. As CIO, there are instances when your team may rely on you to make critical decisions, including when to discontinue an investment. Using a solo hiker mindset in that instance to evaluate the hike (investment) may provide the right answer.  Depending on the team dynamics, choosing to exit an investment could have significant ramifications beyond mere performance metrics. Embracing Rule #8 as a CIO has the potential to positively influence team dynamics and decision-making processes.


CONCLUSION


Within their investment decision making role, a good CIO is often seen giving credit to their team when things work and taking the blame when they don’t. As the lead investor, self-discipline becomes the CIO's greatest ally. By ensuring their decisions are made consistently and their delegated team members adhere to agreed-upon rules, a CIO can enhance the likelihood of success while mitigating the negative impact of any mistakes. Learning from self-discipline of hikers as practitioners of risk management for success can only make CIOs and their teams better at what they do.

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