An Absence of Shalom by Bryan C. Taylor, CFA
Peaceful Investing in a Turbulent World
FEW THINGS ARE MORE EVIDENT in today's society thanan absence of shalom. We see it in the lack of peace throughout the world; we see it in the failure of our marriages; and perhaps most importantly, we see it in a fallen world searching for something -anything - to fill the void inside the hearts of mankind. In our "Post-postmodern" world, the only thing certain is uncertainty. This lack of certainty and clarity can be felt in the investment world as well.These thoughts bring us back to the concept of "shalom."
Many of you are familiar with this Hebrew word, but relate to it only in the most simplistic sense. To many of us, shalom simply means "peace." While valid, this definition fails to fully convey the Hebrew concep of "shalom." Shalom, in the Hebrew sense, suggests wholeness, fullness,or completeness and may even be extended to profitability and success. The link between wholeness and success is lost upon our society at large and, unfortunately, upon many Christians as well. Our society is in perennial pursuit of "happiness," not realizing that it is wholeness or completeness that it seeks. We may, in one sense, define the concept of shalom as a state in which true success is experienced through individual or organizational wholeness. As believers we are made complete in our relationship with God. We easily translate this to the ministry focus inside our organizations, but rarely, I believe, to our investment endeavors.
We fail to consider the relationship of our investment program to the organization in its entirety. It is, or should be, a symbiotic relationship. The organization cannot operate without funds, and the funds exist to support the objective of the organization. Unfortunately, investment programs often seem to take on a life of their own. They aquire their own benchmarks, their own focus, their own agenda, if you will. The very thing that should exist in concert with - and in support of - the organization acquires a life of its own.
When the investment environment is in turmoil and concern forthe future becomes the driving force for an investment committee, the lack of shalom is deeply felt. No longer are the investment funds considered as part of the broader organizational picture; no longer does the "piece" support the whole. Instead, the focus becomes the investment program itself. Management - and possibly the investment committee as well - become focused on the external environment, along with an attempt to control all possible variables to protect and, perhaps, grow the funds. Laudable objectives,certainly, but when taken out of the context of the complete organization they can have detrimental effects.
Loss of organizational focus, short -termism, and subsequently poor investment results are among the more negative effects of solely focusing on our investment program to the exclusion ofits inter-relationship with the remainder of our organization.
We are called to be stewards and fiduciaries, and as such we must concern ourselves with benchmarks, performance, manager selection, and asset allocation - the detailed minutiae of investment management. However, we must not forget that the ultimate purpose of these funds is to further the objectives of theorganization to which they have been given.
In uncertain economic environments, the prosperity and success of the whole entity is of paramount importance. Focusing on the success and productivity of the organization allows us to put investment decisions in the proper context. We must remember that there are issues beyond our control. We cannot consistently predict the outcome of future events, and constantly focusing on the uncertainty of the current investment environment may lead to extreme avoidance of risk.
Similar situations have always existed, and it is at such times that the consistent, effective application of timeless investment principles begins to bear fruit. As Rudyard Kipling once said, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ... yours is the earth and everything that's in it ... "
It is critical to remind ourselves that the funds for which we are responsible playa unique but supporting role inside the larger organizational entity. The primary purpose of those funds is to further the organizational vision. This perspective allows us the objectivity and independence necessary to consistently implement our investment principles when those around us are paralyzed by, or overreacting to, current events.