In a new series of interviews conducted by Hedge Funds Club boss Stefan Nilsson, we are aiming to get under the skin of interesting people related to the hedge fund industry. The interviews focus on the people and the good life. First out is Stephen Fisher, the Founder and CIO of First Degree Global Asset Management in Singapore.
From where and how do you get your daily general news updates?
My trusty Samsung Note 8 delivers the morning news primarily sourced from Reuters, Bloomberg and the BBC. My phone wakes me up around 4am to catch the Wall Street close. I prefer facts rather than opinions since I have enough opinions of my own. Fake news doesn’t seem to pressure my inbox at all. I still don’t understand Twitter – but that’s just my generation.
What do you do to unwind on a weekend?
Normal family stuff plus a trip to my cellar. Yesterday I made pizza from scratch (yeast, flour, water, sugar, olive oil, cheese, tomato, etc) and fired in the barbecue. The children are very entertaining. Sometimes we go to soccer, sometimes we go fishing, sometimes we TikTok. The cellar trip takes about 30 seconds and I always select a bottle to spoil myself.
Can you name a great book you have recently read?
Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” was a gift from a client, so I read it. I was astonished that the actual text was only 60 pages while the foreword, introduction and extensive translation and endnotes accounted for 200 pages! The actual book was shorter than the filler! Kind of like going to the movies and watching all the trailers only to find that the main feature is 10 minutes long… I didn’t find the book gave me the sort of cultural insight into the Chinese mind that others tout. But I am just a mathematician. I did enjoy the final chapter on the use of fire in warfare since it must have been a game-changing technology back in its day. The tone of the book took on a fiendish excitement just like when we switch on our new custom computer with all the goodies.
What is your soundtrack of choice?
Anything by DJ Dr Fish. Available on Soundcloud. https://soundcloud.com/stephen-john-fisher
What drink do you start the day with and what drink finishes it?
In the morning I generally start with soda water and at night I finish with soda water. In between is where the fun can be found. Coffee must be consumed before 12 if I am ever to have a chance of sleeping. Wine features every day in some form or other – white, red, bubbles, fortified. Cider has crept into the refrigerator recently. Sake is one of the world’s underrated pleasures. I definitely don’t drink protein shakes!
What gives you energy?
Something that makes me think. I remember being asked on CNBC what my view on that evening’s Non-Farm Payrolls was. I responded dutifully and mechanically but not really with the kind of energy and excitement that I would have liked. Were the question something like – “Is the current Covid-19 event best analysed as a pandemic or as a set of localised epidemics?” – then I would have been far more animated. That question raises all sorts of issues, both from an epidemiological and an economic perspective. The answer is not immediately clear so it is energising to just start thinking about the direct issues it raises as well as the indirect issues and related adjacencies.
How do you stay grounded and focused as a person in these turbulent and fast-changing times?
The more crises you live through the easier it is to just sit calmly and wait. Markets are inherently cyclical, they go up and down, and just as surely as the market goes down it will change direction and recover at some point in the future. The first market collapse I experienced was the gold/silver bust in 1980. I was around for the 1987 crash, the 1997 Asia crisis, the dotcom bust in 2001, the GFC – which was a long one! – and our current Covid-19 crisis. Not to mention the minor crises such as the Taper-Tantrum in 2013 and the Trump-dump in 2016. Experience helps you cope with the burning uncertainties. Will it ever end? Yes. What do I do? Don’t panic, be patient.
Can you name a terrific restaurant that you love?
Japan takes the prize for the best restaurants in the world. I don’t like over the top fancy restaurants with 25-course degustation menus, blah blah blah. I like honest, enjoyable brilliance. There are so many but the yakitori shop in Ginza called Torishige, across the road from Barneys NY, is truly memorable, particularly the little man carrying the kettle of hot sake.
What’s your favourite museum in the world?
The original Guggenheim in uptown New York. I feel like I am inside a honeycomb.
Are you active on social media and what do you actually use it for?
From time to time I add blog posts to LinkedIn for no other reason than to get it out there for people to read. Social media has gone from being an information repository to a DIY advertising agency which devalues the resource. Whereas businesses once needed a “social media strategy”, the public is now sceptical of how independent the reviews and recommendations actually are. There is room for a classified Independent social media but exactly how this would work and be trusted is anyone’s guess.
Do you have any secret guilty pleasure that you are prepared to reveal here?
Nothing gives me more pleasure than to find a great wine and NOT share it with anyone!
What kind of battle dress do you normally put on for work?
I am a conformist when it comes to work dress. At business school, I was told that “you don’t go to work to make a fashion statement” and this still resonates. That said, I prefer coloured shirts over white shirts – they cost the same and you get the colour for free – and textured cloth over plain. Pinstripes are fun as are bold patterns and French cuffs. Having a suit tailored is an experience everyone should suffer. However, this is all for other people. If I could simply wear a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to every meeting, I would be happy.
Do you celebrate your wins? If so, how?
No, I don’t. We live in a stochastic world and each win is almost as likely to be followed by some sort of setback sometime in the future. The key to surviving is to win a bit, lose a little bit less and repeat. A five-year track record takes, well, five years to build. You need to keep sight of the game and not let early success fool you into believing that you are invincible.
What makes you happy?
I really love my family and my children in particular.