Our popular Hedge Funds Club Good Life interview series continues with HFC boss Stefan Nilsson checking in with Stephen Howard of Howard Trading in Hong Kong.
From where and how do you get your news?
The news media is fantastic. However, that is also the challenge with so much. As a result, I scan the BBC, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg sites and listen to Morgan Stanley’s “Thoughts on the Market” podcast for broad market news. However, the majority of my news intake is usually in the form of specific research around a topic.
What do you do to unwind on a weekend?
Spend time with my wife and son. Whether this is seeing our family and friends, we try to do something outdoors which has been slightly more challenging with physical distancing. However, a run while my son rides along driving the pace is always fun. Recently we’ve rekindled an enjoyment for board games, so I’m now losing Cluedo to my son. I like to play poker. It’s a great game to sharpen your thoughts on risk, probable returns and to remind you to stay humble. I think I have a few years to go before he’s playing.
Can you name a great book you have recently read?
Everyone who knows me knows I typically have a couple of books on the go. Personal performance books typically focus on “how-to”, so Daniel Pink’s book “When” provides an excellent thesis on when you should do what you do during the day. George Friedman’s “The Storm Before the Calm” is a geopolitical perspective on our current turbulent time and for fun, I’m re-reading PG Woodhouse’s “Uncle Dynamite”.
Your soundtrack of choice?
Mixed and very much driven by what I am doing and my mood. For running I can’t seem to beat “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC.
What drink do you start the day with and what drink finishes it?
To start the day, it’s warm water and then a black coffee, no sugar anymore. Drink of choice in the evening, nothing beats a crisp gin & tonic to start the evening and to finish it, a good Japanese whisky.
What’s the worst money mistake you’ve made?
Like most people in financial markets, I’ve managed to lose money from time to time. Ensuring I learn from the experience and don’t repeat it is key. Typically, that is the price you need to learn to pay if you choose to be in this business. Transitioning from sell-side to buy-side, I’ve found that a consistent approach to position sizing has a stronger impact on my ability to remain invested and not lose money.
Have you ever had a great mentor and what did you learn?
Very fortunate to have several excellent mentors. All three mentors were with me during the first ten years of my career. What did I learn? A lot being candid, they know who they are as I’ve thanked them on several occasions. So, to summarise: to be honest, open to new ideas, be practical and listen before you speak. I like a quote attributed to Buzz Aldrin “A mind, like a parachute, has to be open to work.”
What gives you energy?
A challenge that is realistic, potentially achievable and worthy of attention. Balance that with being active in general. If you can walk – don’t drive and if you can run – don’t walk.
How do you stay grounded and focused as a person in these turbulent and fast-changing times?
2020 will go down on record as a terrible year with this health crisis, potentially reduction in civil liberties, how we choose to interact going forward and a very challenging year for financial markets. That said, there are always positives in all situations. Right now, I believe we all appreciate our interactions with family, friends and colleagues. Hopefully, we can all be a bit more patient and listen more. I hope that I remain grounded pretty easily/ It’s a combination of acknowledging that I’ve been very fortunate in life, with work, my upbringing, with my family and with the choice of friends.
Can you name a terrific restaurant that you love?
If I had to choose one it would be the Mandarin Grill, in Hong Kong. It’s managed to evolve and change with the times while retaining its core ideology of serving excellent food in a timeless manner.
What is your favourite museum in the world?
This has to be the Science Museum in South Kensington, London. It’s just excellent. I took my son in October which seems like a long time ago now. Between the space, the flight and the transportation exhibits, it’s easy to spend four hours there wondering where the time went to. The best part, it’s totally free, so if you have the opportunity to go, then make a donation.
Are you active on social media and what do you actually use it for?
As an organisation, we have various online presences and we publish material when we feel it’s relevant. As for myself, I use LinkedIn to express ideas and have candid feedback.
Do you have any secret guilty pleasure that you are prepared to reveal here?
Quite a few. Top of the list are Davidoff cigars and Japanese Hibiki whisky.
What kind of battle dress do you normally put on for work?
If I’m taking a meeting, then it’s a suit as a sign of respect to the person I’m meeting. Otherwise, let’s be practical and it is chinos or jeans and a sports jacket.
Do you celebrate your wins? If so, how?
It’s changed over the years. It used to be with a drink with my colleagues and peers. Now it’s about acknowledging a win, trying to be humble and then continue to move forward.
What makes you happy?
Simple – my family, my friends, reading, learning, live comedy, theatre and, when we have the opportunity, the opera.