June 9, 2016
Inspiration and Persistence
Success? What does that mean to you? The most genuinely successful people I know are those who are most comfortable in their own skin and, consequently, genuinely happy. They didn't arrive at genuine happiness overnight; they achieved it through years of steadfast, informed effort applied to every important aspect of their lives, starting with the relationships that matter most to them and, immediately after that, their work. Whether that work is cabinet making or neurosurgery, they work hard. But, importantly, that dauntless time on task is powered by fascination. They are seekers always eager to learn about their chosen craft. They are hungry to be surprised about even the smallest new piece of the puzzle and that next level of mastery which, while completely undetectable to others, is tremendously gratifying to them.
Angela Duckworth, arguably the world's foremost expert on "grit" and achievement, spoke last week at the 2016 Hirtle Callaghan Investors Conference. Angela's topic was the perfect complement to our 2015 keynote speaker, Erik Wahl, performance artist and bestselling author of UNthink. Angela’s elegantly stated theory of achievement is: Talent X Effort = Skill and Skill X Effort = Achievement. When Erik gave his inspiring presentation at Cal Farley's Boys Ranch in Amarillo this past Spring, one 7th grader asked him earnestly, "How did you learn to paint so fast?" Erik replied, "Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice." He said it eight times; I counted. So Angela Duckworth, PhD social scientist, ties achievement to passion or fascination and consequent persistence. While Erik Wahl, renowned performance artist who travels the globe inspiring people to "unthink" and rediscover their own creative genius, ties achievement to relentless practice.
As Chief Investment Officers we are, in Erik Wahl terms, "unthinking" the investment industry. The investment industry was designed to serve Wall Street first and the users of capital (corporations who are the largest customers of the investment banks that make up Wall Street) second. Conversely, we exclusively serve investors, those of us who own and provide capital - imagine that! In 1930 shortly after the 1929 stock market crash signaled the beginning of the Great Depression, Fred Schwed, Jr. wrote what became a notorious book called Where are the Customers’ Yachts? lampooning an industry where bankers and brokers got rich at the expense of the customers whom they were supposed to be serving.
Cultures change slowly and, sadly, that Where are the Customers’ Yachts? spirit is still alive today - but not at Hirtle Callaghan. From Day One, we built our firm to be a new kind of institution with a new kind of structure and culture. A structure that completely eliminates conflicts of interest, because we sell no products and are paid one fee based solely on assets under management, combined with a true asset management culture where great investment science is never good enough and great client collaboration is never close enough. Which brings me to, in Angela Duckworth terms, what inspires us to work relentlessly at mastering our craft.
Our important work supports our clients' important work. The financial security of our client families and institutions depends on what we achieve - working closely with each of them. If, working together, relying on skillful, persistent, inspired effort, we succeed - it means more security, more philanthropy, more research, more scholarships - more progress for our country and for mankind. If we fail, the opposite is true.
So, if you want to think about achievement this summer, pick up a copy of Angela Duckworth's Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance or Erik Wahl's UNthink, Rediscover your Creative Genius. I bet you'll be inspired.
Jonathan J. Hirtle
Jon is the Chairman & CEO of Hirtle Callaghan. He also chairs the Executive Committee and serves on the Investment Policy Committee. Prior to founding Hirtle Callaghan in 1988, Jon worked at Goldman, Sachs & Co. advising family groups and institutions on investment strategy and securities selection. He received hisBachelor of Science and M.B.A. degrees from the Pennsylvania State University. Jon served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1975 to 1982 and is a member of the Governing Council of the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.