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. Here’s our chat with Peter Douglas in Japan.
From where and how do you get your daily general news updates?
BBC News and the New York Times, through their apps; also the Economist Espresso but that’s mostly for the quote of the day. Increasingly, LinkedIn posts lead me to other news sources so from time to time I see Bloomberg, Nikkei and others.
What do you do to unwind on a weekend?
My work week hasn’t discriminated against Saturdays and Sundays for the last 25 years or more! I unwind in increments every day and work, whether a lot or a little, every day of the week too, although I do try to stay at or around home at the weekends. Unwinding often means studying some Japanese, my working language these days, but it’s still embarrassingly clunky; working outside – I’m the world’s worst gardener but I’m working on it; baking bread – real men bake sourdough, or watching something well-made on Netflix before I go to bed.
Can you name a great book you have recently read?
I used to read extensively and voraciously; when I was a small child, I spent almost all my free time in my mother’s library and marvelled at how books could take me anywhere in the world, to any time period, to any experience. Now I read only intermittently and I’ve not read any fiction that I’d call “great” for some years now. I’d love to get back to reading once – if – life slows down a bit.
Soundtrack of choice?
Eclectic. Mornings generally classical, but that could be opera, baroque, chamber, ecclesiastical… Later, absolutely anything from koto to electronica to ballads to old rock’n’roll to jazz to dub, to, really, whatever. Music is the wallpaper of my life. The first thing I do in the morning and the first thing I do when I come home is to turn on the stereo. At major change points in my life since my early teens, I’ve always listened to a lot of Captain Beefheart; the wildness of his music is, oddly, a stable reference point to benchmark where I am with everything at a given point in time.
What drink do you start the day with and what drink finishes it?
I start with a glass of grapefruit juice and a mug of super strong black coffee. I often finish the day with a wild thyme liqueur that I make myself.
What gives you energy?
Most days I wake early and head off into the woods around our house for an hour. In the winter that’s on cross-country skis – there’s snow around us for five months of the year – and in the summer that’s a trail run. I’m nowhere close to athletic these days but I love the feeling of physical exertion and the solitude of being completely alone in a forest for a while at the beginning of the day – it’s my meditation and sets the direction of the day.
How do you stay grounded and focused as a person in these turbulent and fast-changing times?
I don’t worry about things that aren’t yet a problem. And if something is a problem, I don’t apportion blame neither to others nor to myself, but try to get on with fixing it. If ultimately, it’s not fixable, always remember that somewhere in the world things are worse and that this, too, shall pass. When the going gets tough, I work hard at avoiding stress: stress leads to bad decisions and unhappiness; it’s infectious, so I try to avoid stressed people too, and damaging.
Can you name a terrific restaurant that you love?
Tensuzu. It’s a third-generation Edo-style tempura restaurant in Ueno Hirokouji in Tokyo. I first went there in 1988 and now usually go every couple of months. I not only love the food and the passion and care with which its prepared and the classic calm feeling of the place, but I’ve become good friends with the master so it feels like dropping in on a neighbour.
What’s your favourite museum in the world?
Moderna Museet in Stockholm. I spent many days there as a kronorless teenage hitchhiker looking for free warmth in the Swedish midwinter and came to love it. Last year I managed to go back with some close friends. I like modern art museums generally but that one, in particular, has the right mix of hilarity, surprise, amazement and bourgeois-meets-outré.
Are you active on social media and what do you actually use it for?
I look at LinkedIn regularly and post quite often mostly to support the work of the CAIA Association. I’ve noticed that there’s an inverse relationship between the importance of what I have to say and how many people seem to be interested! However, it’s a good source of interesting news and information that I might not otherwise have found and the messaging service is increasingly my default for contacting people outside my circle of immediate colleagues. I’m only “linked” to people that I can in some way vouch for from experience and I ignore requests from people I don’t know or have only met briefly – I do worry whether that makes me seem a bit of a grump, though. I don’t use any other social media personally.
Do you have any secret guilty pleasure that you are prepared to reveal here?
Soft black liquorice. I can eat a whole bag at a time. And I do the New York Times crossword every day, regardless of how busy I am.
What kind of battle dress do you normally put on for work?
These days, no special battle dress – I wear whatever the weather demands. That’s a huge change from when I first started work in the asset management industry in the City of London in 1985. Always a tie and always well knotted at all times, always a good suit – I spent my entire second month’s salary on getting a suit made, and never regretted it, and black-laced shoes. Slip-ons implied you were a bit, well, slippery, and a colleague was once sent home for wearing brown shoes to work. You could get a tad funky with your cufflinks – those little colourful silk balls were quite the thing in the mid-80s – within reason a little adventurous with your tie so long as it was good quality and silk, paisley was a step too far, though, but certainly not with the colours of the stripes of your shirt – blue or pink, and absolutely not with either the colour or patterns of your socks, which were black. White shirts were for the porters, and solid colours unheard of anywhere in the office. Only directors sported handkerchiefs in their jacket pockets. Now THAT was battle dress.
Do you celebrate your wins? If so, how?
Not really; life’s a journey and celebrating any single “win” along the way would seem to tempt fate. Similarly, I don’t wallow when there’s a failure. But if an achievement is a team event, then, of course, it should be celebrated and I’ll go along with what the team wants.
What makes you happy?
My wonderful wife who makes every day richer; seeing my kids successfully running their own lives and becoming good human beings; knowing that over the years I’ve kick-started a lot of careers for young people; my physical locale of mountain and forest; the changing seasons; being surrounded by honest and hard-working people; having more money than I need to live on but not so much as to warp me. At a more visceral level, riding a big motorbike on a winding road in the summer or a snowmobile through a wild snowstorm. Good craft beer, good cheese, marmite. So long as I can honestly say I’ve done something to make the world a fractionally better place each day, I sleep soundly and look forward to the next day.