12 November 2022

William Green chats with François Rochon, an investing giant who’s beaten the market by a mile over nearly 30 years. Here, François explains how he’s generated stellar returns by investing in great businesses at reasonable valuations. Whether he’s buying stocks or collecting world-class art, his strategy is to own the “best of the best.” François, the president of Montreal-based Giverny Capital, also explains why it’s rational to be an unwavering optimist, betting on human ingenuity to overcome the world’s most daunting challenges.

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  • How François Rochon began his market-beating investment journey three decades ago.
  • How the “margin of safety” concept guides him in business, markets, & life.
  • How to succeed by investing in great companies at reasonable valuations.
  • Why it’s critical for investors to have a long time horizon.
  • How to become a better investor by cultivating humility & preparing for disappointment.
  • What he learned from Warren Buffett about the importance of owner’s earnings.
  • Why François resists the temptation to overpay, even for great companies.
  • Why he highlights his investment mistakes in an annual list called the Podium of Errors.
  • How to survive & thrive by taking a middle-of-the-road approach to diversification.
  • Why he believes that market predictions are a waste of time.
  • How he handles bear markets emotionally & uses them to improve his portfolio.
  • Why he loves companies like CarMax, Visa, Alphabet, & Markel.
  • How the president of Constellation Software embodies everything he seeks in a leader.
  • How the best businesses remind François of the beauty & uniqueness of great artworks.
  • How he was influenced by studying & meeting investment icon Peter Lynch.
  • What François learned from investing legend Lou Simpson.
  • How the best investors succeed by straying from the tribe & forging their own path.
  • How it helps him to read broadly about philosophy, art, science, history, & psychology.
  • Why it’s rational, not naive, to be an “unwavering optimist.”
  • Why François believes that persistence & patience are the key to human achievement.


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

[00:00:00] William Green: Hi folks. I’m absolutely delighted to introduce today’s guest, François Rochon, who’s one of the great investors I wrote about in my book, Richer Wiser, Happier. François runs an investment firm in Montreal called Giverny Capital. He has a superb long-term record. Rochon Global, which is a portfolio of personal and family accounts that he manages, has racked up annual returns of about 14% a year over nearly 30 years.

[00:00:25] William Green: To put that in perspective, he’s beaten his benchmark by more than five percentage points a year for almost three decades. That’s a huge margin of outperformance, so this is someone we should definitely listen to when he explains how to build long-term wealth in the market. As you’ll hear in this conversation, François’s success as an investor is based on one surprisingly simple principle, which is that the price of a stock will eventually reflect the company’s intrinsic value.

[00:00:54] William Green: Warren Buffet’s teacher, Ben Graham, explained this principle by saying that in the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run, it’s a weighing machine. The trouble is it can take a pretty long time for this process to play out and for the market to recognize a company’s fair value.

[00:01:11] William Green: One advantage that an investor like François has is that is extremely patient. He’s perfectly happy to buy a great business at a reasonable price and then just sit on it for many years and the knowledge that the market will eventually reward him. I find it tremendously clarifying to interview François cause he’s so rational and clearheaded about how the stock market works and what it takes to generate exceptional returns.

[00:01:36] William Green: But I also love chatting with him because he’s such a broad thinker who’s equally fascinated by literature, psychology, philosophy, and art. In fact, I think he’s as passionate about buying great works of art as he is about buying great stocks. This, François explains his mission both as an investor and as an art collector, is simply to buy the best of the best.

[00:01:58] William Green: I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. Thanks a lot for joining us.

[00:02:02] Intro: You’re listening to the Richer, Wiser, Happier podcast where your host, William Green, interviews the world’s greatest investors and explores how to win in markets and life.

[00:02:13] William Green: Hi folks. I’m thrilled to be here with today’s guest, François Rochon, who’s joining us from his office in Montreal. It’s wonderful to see you, François. Thanks so much for being here today. Oh, thank you for having me. It’s a delight always to chat with you. It’s been a few years, I think, since I interviewed you for my book, so I’m happy to be here with you again.

[00:02:31] François Rochon: Oh, yes. At least five, six years’ been a while.

[00:02:36] William Green: Yeah, so we’re overdue. I wanted to start by asking you about the period, I guess 30 years ago, around late 1992 when you were working as an engineer and you first fell in love with investing. What happened that set you on this immensely successful 30 year journey that you’ve been on as an investor?

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[00:02:57] François Rochon: Well, I believe the first book I read was one Up on Wall Street by Peter Lynch, and it was the first time really that I read about value investing. The idea that a company has a value and you can purchase it on the stock market way, billow it’s intrinsic value. And to me that was something new.

[00:03:19] François Rochon: Cause I didn’t have any strategy for investing or any idea how investing. To me, almost looked like a casino and was dominated by, financial sharks. So overnight, my views of what the market, the stock market was really changed when I read Wall Street. And then it led to reading Ben Graham’s Book, The Intelligent Investor, and then went on to, Warren Buffet’s annuals.

[00:03:50] François Rochon: And really reading those annual letters, probably at the beginning, 1993, really changed my views of the investment world. But more importantly, it gave me a passion to invest in the market.

[00:04:05] William Green: You had a very scientific background. I remember once reading that you were obsessed with obstru sort of physics theorems and the like, and you’d come out of college.

[00:04:16] William Green: Become an engineer. Right. So, but then as a child, if I remember rightly, back when you were about 11 or 12, you were already fascinated by the numbers of stocks kind of moving up and down in the papers. What do you think it was that inherently fascinated you about the stock market from such an early age?

[00:04:34] François Rochon: Well, I guess, like you say, in those days you read the, market quotes in the newspaper. So you have all those big pages, small numbers going up or a quarter, going down a quarter. And I just found that fascinating. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but, I thought all those little numbers a lot and I had interests, for mathematics.

[00:04:57] François Rochon: As you said. I became an engineer and even though I was interested in the stock market pretty young, I used to play, the game called Stock Ticker. Oh yeah, dices. And you would own shares of, I don’t know, grains or industrial, products. And, I found that board games so fascinating.

[00:05:16] François Rochon: I remember I made a version of a computer much more sophisticated, so it got even more interested. But I think the view at that time to me is that, the prices of the stock market was really, when I programmed it on the computer, I used, random formulas. So it was just, like a casino. So things would go up and down based just on the odds of the right numbers. So to me, science, physics and mathematics, through engineering was a more rational way earning.

[00:05:53] François Rochon: But when later, because of Buffet and Graham at Peter Lynch, I discovered that, you could use your rationality to analyze companies to understand, the values of companies. It really, it struck a chord with me because that I was someone that liked to understand things and I wanted things to make sense.

[00:06:13] William Green: You were also obviously pretty obsessive because I remember you once telling me that I think read Peter Lynch’s other famous book, Beating the Streets, something like 10 times. Your Youth, and then I think as I remember from our last interview, you started to read Buffet, and then I think in early 1993, you told me you actually wrote to him and he sent you all of these annual reports for I, I think this stack from like 1977 to 1990.

[00:06:40] William Green: I mean, that’s kind of an extraordinary thing to do as well. Right. What were you thinking and writing to Buffet, and then what did you actually learn once you started to really dig into those 15 years of annual reports?

[00:06:51] François Rochon: Well, I think from a very early age, I was a self learner, so I was wanted to know things by reading books or annual reports or anything.

[00:07:02] François Rochon: So pretty quickly I understood that Warren Buffet was the great master of, of investing. So to me, to write it, to ask that he sends me everything that is written, that is available was just a logical thing to, to do just to study the Great Master. And, to go back to the art analogy, if you think if you want to become a great painter, you want to study the great masters of the past, so you go museums and you just look at all those great and you learn from. And that’s what I did when I started and still doing it today.

[00:07:39] William Green: So obviously as an engineer, one of the things that presumably resonated for you was also this idea of the margin of safety. Right? When Buffet and Munger talk about it, they would often talk about it in terms of a bridge.

[00:07:51] William Green: Can you talk about that notion, which seems to me just vastly important.

[00:07:55] François Rochon: Oh, yes. Yes. And, Ben Graham made it, is key to, value investing. He chose those three words, marginal safety. And, seven years later, I think there’s still the right words. And, yes, as an engineer it’s, it really resonated with me. And I would say that also, this marginal safety, principle, I think can be extended to more than just valuation. But in terms of the quality of the business, the quality of managers, and the quality of balance sheets, also, So we see it, this year. The companies that have a little too much leverage on the balance sheet, they, they can be quite hurt by the increase of interest rate.

[00:08:37] François Rochon: So you want to margin safety, not just on valuation, but on all the important part of, running a corporation.

[00:08:45] William Green: I also remember you once saying to me how this idea of the margin of safety really runs through every era of your life. I remember you, hopefully we’ll get to talk more about your art collecting later, but I remember you saying to me once that you bought some great piece of art and you timed it the payment over four years in some interest free way. and so you were kind of keeping the commitments down and likewise with the cost of your office and the like, you were very careful. I think you once said to me that if your revenues dropped by 80%, you’d still survive. You’d still be able to hang in there. Is that fair to say that this idea of the margin of safety runs through pretty much your entire approach to life?

[00:09:21] François Rochon: I think you have to if you are in the investment business. Probably over decades of investing, you’ll go through a very tough time. At some point, the market being down 50%, so revenue is down 50%. It hurts a lot of companies. So your goal is to be able to survive such period, even if it happens only once in, in your career.

[00:09:47] François Rochon: So, from day one, I’ve been always very prudent and, always up at margin safety in terms of keeping expenses. No more than 50% of revenues.

[00:09:57] William Green: So to go back to day one, you started investing money for your family in July, 1993, and you launched what was called the Rochon Global Portfolio. And at the time, you were still working as an engineer during the week, and you were kind of moonlighting as an investor on weekends and in the evenings.

[00:10:14] William Green: And if I remember rightly, you were spending your Sundays at the library reading value line and annual reports on the like, Was it a very joyful experience? I mean, were you just sort of intoxicated by what you were reading of Buffet and Graham and Lynch and the like?

[00:10:28] François Rochon: Oh, it was really like, discovering, how to turn the lead to gold. That, that was a feeling there. Obviously I didn’t have that much experience yet, so I was perhaps a little naive, but, that was an exciting period. Very excited. And I do remember reading old value lines from the sixties, from the seventies and eighties, and, trying to identify companies that at some point were trading at very low valuation and studying afterward what had happened to, those investments.

[00:10:59] François Rochon: And I remember reading, I think, the 1973 or 74 Val h and r block, and I think the stock went down 80% in the correction of 73, 74. And at some point, I think it traded, four, five times earnings. So these were exciting times because I discovered that if you could identify great companies and be able to purchase them at reasonable valuation, it could do very well.

[00:11:26] François Rochon: And I would say at the beginning, it still happens today, but in the beginnings you could find some very great companies trading at very low valuations. And so, when I started to really purchase companies, the first few years I did very well because there were great opportunities in those days.

[00:11:46] François Rochon: I’m not saying there’s not anymore. So say it’s a little harder today than it was probably 93 90.

[00:11:52] William Green: So you quit engineering after maybe three years of discovering the joy of real serious investing and went to work for a, an investment firm in Montreal. I have the sense that it was a disillusioning experience and showed you a lot about the disadvantages of institutional money management.

[00:12:12] William Green: Can you talk about what happened, what you saw there that made you think, Yeah, I want to be in this business but I want to work for myself so I can follow the rules that I want to follow instead of doing it in this misguided way?

[00:12:24] François Rochon: Well, I don’t know if it’s misguided. I think most money managers are sincere doing their best. I really do. And so when I worked at that big firm that manage institutional clients, they did the best they could. And they add pressure from the clients to do well on a quarterly basis, or at least on a yearly basis.

[00:12:48] François Rochon: So I just realized in real life, I wouldn’t say I was, lost illusions. I just realized, and in real life, it’s hard to have a long term horizon. Your clients. In those cases, the institutional clients have to share your time horizon for the relationship to work. Because if your clients don’t give you the time horizon, you need to get the rewards from equity investing. It’s a wasted time, to invest that way. So I realized that, most people in the business, you, I have the luxury of having a long term horizon.

[00:13:27] François Rochon: So, when I realized that, I said, Well, if I really want to invest the way, I believe is the best way to invest, I have to start my own firm. And, when I started to gather clients in the early two thousands, I really took the time to explain to all those clients that we needed to have, both of.

[00:13:47] François Rochon: I have a long term horizon and not to focus too much on the short term results and I don’t know exactly when I started to talk about my rule of tree, but pretty early on I thought the importance of that rule and which is basically one year out the stock market will go down. One stock out of three that you’ll purchase will be a disappointment and at least one year outta three you’ll underperform the index.

[00:14:14] François Rochon: And I think when you accept that from the start, you deal better with market fluctuations. The mistakes. You’ll make securities and, you have to accept from the start that have here you are on perform the market. Even if you do a good job and you study the company very well and you made some intelligent long term choices, you can have two or three years in a row that you under perform in. You have to be able to accept that.

[00:14:43] William Green: It seems also that rule of three is a fundamental reminder that you need to be humble as an investor. That a third of the stocks you purchase are likely to do poorly. A third of the time you’re going to underperform the index. And a third of the, a third of the years, the stock market’s going to fall by 10 cent or more.

[00:15:01] William Green: It’s kind of wiring yourself in a way from the start conditioning yourself from the start, have fairly realistic and humble expectations about the roughness of the terrain you’re going to have to navigate.

[00:15:13] François Rochon: Oh, yes. And I think as the years go by, I think, it’s very hard not to be, to stay humble and get even, a little more humble because, it’s a very tough industry. It’s a very tough, when you want to beat the stock market over many years, not just three or four years, but over decades. I think you, you have to be armed with a lot of, and you always, I think is kind of the, catalyst.

[00:15:38] François Rochon: To help you become a better investor because you always want to learn more and understand more. And I think, it turns out that, it’s kind of, a good tool to help in the learning process.

[00:15:49] William Green: There’s a very fundamental insight at the heart of your approach to investing, which comes up again in your letters to shareholders, your quarterly letters, your annual letters, which I’ve spent the last few days reading with great interests.

[00:16:02] William Green: They’re fantastic letters. Thank you. And the insight really, which sounds so obvious, but that you’ve helped me to kind of pound into my own head, is, as you put it, that the stock market always reflects the fair value of companies over the long term. Can you talk about this idea of the convergence of a company’s intrinsic value and its stock market value over time?

[00:16:27] William Green: Cause it seems to me an absolutely foundational insight that most investors who are treating the market as a casino, Simply don’t understand. And it, and once you understand it, it’s a little bit like understanding the laws of physics, right?

[00:16:42] François Rochon: Yeah. Well, I think there’s a, kind of, with the stock market, there’s a kind of a paradox because in the short term, and short term can be a few years in the short term, the quotations of any stocks or even the general stock market can be irrational, unpredictable, and totally, out of sync with the intrinsic value. But in the longer term, all the forcers seems to balance themselves and that every quotation in the stock market eventually. Well, the intrinsic value of a company, any company, I don’t think there’s any, exceptions. So this paradox, once I believe you understand that you can see that the key ingredient is first to understand the businesses you invest in so you can have a general view of what you think it’s worth. But the second part, you have to be patient. You have to accept that it can take some years for the rewards to be a return to you in terms of a good return in the stock market.

[00:17:45] François Rochon: And, but I think here lies the key way to deal with this paradox. You have to consider yourself as an owner of the shares of the company you own. And, since I think I started in 1996, I was inspired by Warren Buffet. Of course, I started to measure the owner’s earnings of the companies in the portfolio. So, very put very simply. I would say that I would try to see my portfolio as a holding of companies and try to measure how much the, intrinsic value of the portfolio has increased the one year compared to the previous year.

[00:18:24] François Rochon: And this is done very simply by just adding the earnings of all the companies you own and compare it with the previous year. By doing this, I think I helped myself get more impervious market quotations, and I know that over the long part, over many years, if I’m right in the owner earnings, The quotation of the stock market will eventually reflect that.

[00:18:47] François Rochon: And so far, my experience has been since 96 that, there’s been a very strong correlations between the increase of the owners and the companies we own. And, the quotation of the stock market.

[00:19:00] William Green: The correlation is so striking when I look at your shareholder letters that it’s worth actually kind of dwelling on the numbers.

[00:19:06] William Green: Like there was one point in one of the letters where you said, Over 20 years from 1996 to the end of 2015, your company’s intrinsic value increased by 1102%, and the value of their stocks increased by 1141%. So incredibly close, 1102% for the increase in intrinsic value, 1141% for the increase in the value of the stock.

[00:19:33] William Green: So as you point out again and again in the shareholder letters, this is not a coincidence. The correlation is kind of amazing.

[00:19:41] François Rochon: It is amazing. I think the fundamental process that lies behind the, I think the approach of investing, if the value increases, let’s say market, increase the value stocks, but over a year or two or three, anything can happen.

[00:20:02] François Rochon: So that’s why I say it’s kinda a paradox. But if you keep focusing on what’s happening to the companies you own, eventually the stock market will.

[00:20:13] William Green: So one of the things that seems, if I understand this correctly, to be fundamental to your approach is that you are looking for outstanding companies that basically are increasing their intrinsic value faster than the average.

[00:20:27] William Green: So if you expect, you often talk about how stocks historically maybe go up six or 7% a year in the US and maybe there’s a 2% dividend, something like that. So let’s say historically you’d expect an eight or 9% return, what you are looking for is outstanding companies that can grow maybe five percentage points faster than that. is that a fair summary of what seems like a pretty simple approach, but obviously it’s incredibly difficult to pull off?

[00:20:53] François Rochon: It is. What I’m aiming for, I don’t remember exactly, but I think since 96, the increase in the owner’s earning portfolio on average, and if you include a dividend, it’s close to 13% annual.

[00:21:08] François Rochon: So it’s probably a little more than 12% in terms of earnings per share growth, and perhaps less than 1% of dividend because many companies in the portfolio don’t pay dividend. So that treating per percent is probably, like you say, four or 5% better than the, the average of the sub market. Let’s say the s and p fell, which probably have has grown exactly as you say, probably 9% over the last five years.

[00:21:33] François Rochon: That’s why I’m trying to do when I purchase a stock for the portfolio is find a company that I believe if you combine the earnings growth going forward and the dividend yield, you come closer.

[00:21:47] William Green: How do you deal with the pressure not to overpay you for these outstanding companies? Because there’s a section of your annual letter where you talk about your mistakes.

[00:21:57] William Green: In the past, you much to your credit, every report you go through various mistakes and they almost always are errors of omission rather than commission. There are things where you fail to buy them, and it seems to me repeatedly, year after year, the reason why you failed to buy them and missed out on huge returns is cause they were slightly more expensive than you wanted them to be.

[00:22:16] William Green: So how do you get these outstanding companies of prices that you can bear?

[00:22:23] François Rochon: It’s not easy because if I want to be logical here, if I’m going to own a company, let’s say for 10 years, that’s going to grow its earnings by 12, 13, 14% annually to get that reward in of the stock, there can be a slight decrease in the P ratio, but not too much.

[00:22:44] François Rochon: Because let’s say if you quadruple your earnings over 10 years, but the P ratio goes out from, I don’t know, 30 to 20 times, you don’t earn 15% annually on your investment because there was some P contraction at some point in the future. So ideally, you want the P ratio in the future to be similar to what you’re paying.

[00:23:07] François Rochon: So I’m not necessarily looking for a, let’s say a bargain company that trades that way below its intrinsic value. Of course, I like it when I do, but to me, if I can find a great companies and in the future, the peer ratio is similar to when I purchase it, if I’m right on the growth rate, of course it can be a investment.

[00:23:29] François Rochon: The danger is that if you overpay a little bit, you kinda discounted in. Also it go back to to have this margin of safety when you purchase the stock. But like you say, I made the mistake of not purchasing great companies because I wanted that ratio to be lower. The stock. I missed great investment because of that.

[00:23:59] François Rochon: So it’s to find the right balance of, keeping the margin of safety, principle in line and always at the same time always trying to see that perhaps if you pay higher than you’d like to, the growth rate of the company will be high enough that even if there is a little shrinkage of the key ratio at the end of your investment, you’ll still do ok.

[00:24:23] François Rochon: So if you can find a company that can grow by 20% a. and you lose a little bit on the ratio after 10 years, you’ll probably do. So I think many mistakes I did can be, intuit or at research or Starbucks. I fail probably to see that the growth rate would be much higher than 12 or 18%. I don’t remember exactly, but I think in terms of that research, it was probably 17, 18% annually the growth rate since I’ve been watching it for more than two decades now.

[00:24:58] François Rochon: So it’s warranted a much higher ratio than I was ready to pay. So I think that’s one big lesson. When you do find an outstanding company, you have to be able to pay higher PE ratio.

[00:25:12] William Green: Yeah. I remember François, you writing about, I think selling facts at too early and missing out on a 25 fold gain over two decades, or failing to buy QuickBook and missing out on a 3200% return.

[00:25:25] William Green: Or watching Fox Factory Holding saw 500% over six years and missing out on that. And I’m wondering what’s the benefit of having this section of your shareholder letter called the podium of errors, where you, to use Charlie Munger’s phrase, you rub your nose in your own mistakes. What do you, how is it helping you other than a degree of self idulation?

[00:25:47] François Rochon: Well, I think it keeps me, humble because, you don’t have to search very hard to find mistakes you’ve made. But having this yearly podium of tree mistakes, it makes me think usually in January, at the end of the previous year, to look up, what would I choose the three best mistake of the year.

[00:26:07] François Rochon: It forces you to go back and pass decision both in things you did purchase and the ones you did not purchase. I think having this section in the annual letter every year, I think it builds kind of a process of always trying to learn from your past decisions. And I think looking at companies that you didn’t buy.

[00:26:29] François Rochon: Let’s hope that, by studying those and into the example, good examples of fact set in it, you want to be sure that in the future we don’t make the same mistakes. So perhaps, let’s say for instance, there’s a little amount today, which I think is a great company. But the p ratio is a little high. Makes me think perhaps I should learn from the past mistakes and perhaps, pay a higher price than I would like to. And I hope I can always, improve and become a better investor all the time by focusing on those mistakes, but also to learn from those mistakes and try not to repeat them too often.

[00:27:06] William Green: It’s challenging though because I think of a lot of the really smart value investors who’ve come undone over the last year. One of the lessons that they learned is that it was okay to pay more. And so they kind of relaxed their standards and then came undone when a lot of very high quality companies plunged that they had overpaid for.

[00:27:28] William Green: And so it’s dangerous, right? You can learn the wrong lesson from your mistakes. Can you talk a bit about that? Cause this is one of those eternal paradoxes, I think, where Yeah. it’s just difficult, right? cause the conditions change as well.

[00:27:41] François Rochon: Yeah. Well I think Ben Graham talked about that in one of his book that, the biggest mistakes you make is not in the bull market overpaying for a great company because eventually, earnings will keep growing and the peer ratio will get back to normal level and they’ll do okay.

[00:28:00] François Rochon: The biggest mistakes in the bull market is to purchase companies of poor quality and they don’t come back after the bear market cause they’re not profitable or the P ratio was so high they have to be a limit to the P ratio. You pay, I think if you pay a hundred times earnings for a company and the P ratio goes down to 20 times during bear market, you’re down 80%.

[00:28:22] François Rochon: It takes a lot of years for earnings to grow so you can get back to five times your, the level during the bear market. So there has to be some limit to the P ratio. You have to pay, I don’t know what’s the right number, but I know it’s not hundred times. Their markets are painful and but sometimes you have to still focus on the company.

[00:28:40] François Rochon: And as long as the company is growing its intrinsic value at, good ratios, probably it’s a good time just to stay patient and accept that. If you pay, let’s say 30 times earning and it goes down to 20 times or during a correction, you’re down 33%. But you know, if you’re right on the company, eventually earnings will keep growing and the stock will recuperate all the losses and even more, gain the good returns. But if you pay a high ratio to accept that, there is that downside, of course.

[00:29:12] William Green: You’ve quoted a wonderful line that Ben Graham famously quoted in a speech of his from 1958, that comes originally from the Roman writer of it, I think from his metamor. So this is about 2000 years old, where as you explained it, in one of your shareholder letters, the sun, God Febus, says to his son, whose name I can never pronounce, maybe Fatton, something like that, who wanted to fly their chariot through the sky.

[00:29:36] William Green: The wise father, God says, You will go safer in the middle road. and of course the son ignores this, loses control of the horses and crashes earth and almost destroys the world by setting it on fire. And you’ve said that you consistently followed the middle road in investing, which I think kind of describes what you were just saying, like how to balance this desire for growth, for outstanding growth and a desire to pay the right price, not to get too ahead of your skis.

[00:30:03] William Green: Can you talk about that idea of the middle road, which seems fundamental to your approach?

[00:30:09] François Rochon: Yes, I think the middle role, there’s many ways to see it, but in terms of, our investment process, I would say first we look for great companies, that grow the intrinsic value at quite high ratio. we don’t want the the revolutionary companies that, grow 50% a year, but you have to pay a very high P ratio and sometimes used to say that, more companies, die indigestion than, from, starvation.

[00:30:39] François Rochon: So what he meant by that is that companies that try to grow too fast sometimes create their own do. So we look for companies that grow their intrinsic value, but we’re fair, prudent. So we’re companies that grow up more than 20% annually. So the middle of the road in this case would be companies that grow their intrinsic value, let’s say 12 to 20% annual.

[00:31:02] François Rochon: And in terms of valuation, of course we like to pay very low, multiple, but even for great companies, we don’t want to pay too much a high multiple. Like I said, we don’t want to experience a, p reduction in the future. So again, the middle of the road is to find probably companies that are not necessarily trading at very low valuation, but not too high valuation either.

[00:31:27] François Rochon: So let’s say 20, 25 times earning. And I think also in terms of market cap, of course, very young companies can grow very fast, but they’re more risky. Usually they’re not, they don’t have a, a mo yet around their castle. So usually want companies that have a good history of, building a mode around their business.

[00:31:50] François Rochon: Usually you don’t get that with very young companies and with very big companies, Yes, they can have a boat, but they’re so dominant, they’re so big, it’s hard for them to grow at high ratios. I’m thinking Proctor and Gamble or Coca-Cola, for example, great companies, but you know, they won’t grow earnings much more than six or 7% annually.

[00:32:10] François Rochon: So the middle of the road here would be to find a company that is big enough, old enough that they have a strong competitive advantage, a big mold around their business, but at the same time is not too big so that they don’t have any. Growth prospects, in the future. So I think again, the role applies, in our investment process here. In terms of size, not necessarily in terms of big cap, large cast, small cap, but really in terms of where they are, their path of growth in the future.

[00:32:44] William Green: I’d say you also have a very middle of the road approach to diversification, right. can you talk about how you balance the benefits of concentration and diversification so you have a chance of outperforming, but also more likely to survive?

[00:32:58] François Rochon: Yes. Many of the great money managers that I studied, Phillip Fisher, Glen Greenberg, of course, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. Most of the time they were very concentrated, let’s say sometimes 10 stocks, that’s say for instance, and they’ve done very well. And, they waited for the right opportunity with the very large margin of safety, and they’ve done well.

[00:33:21] François Rochon: But for myself, from my personal experience, I thought that 10 is a little low and, I was more, I felt more comfortable with something 20 to 25 names. So a typical weight tree between three and 5%, let’s say a single security. And, from the almost 30 years experience, now having around 25 names of portfolio for me seems to be the right balance between having enough securities that if you make one or two mistakes, it doesn’t hurt too much the portfolio. And at the same time, I think 25 names is concentrated enough so that, we’re not too diversified. That, the more names you have, the closer to the s and p 500 returns you’ll have. So you don’t want to have too much names in portfolio because the odds of the index go down very quickly.

[00:34:17] François Rochon: So I think that’s the right balance for us. Again, it’s probably middle of the road here. It’s the right balance. Having enough securities of, yeah, proper diversification, but not too much, so they are too diversifying.

[00:34:30] William Green: Another really fundamental tenant of yours is that it’s basically futile to make market predictions. You say that people are always writing to you, grabbing you in elevators or whatever, and saying, Is now a good time to invest?

[00:34:44] William Green: Can you talk about this really fundamental insight that it’s just a game you don’t want to play? Trying to predict where the market’s going, where the economy’s going, or any of these big macro or geopolitical things that you deem too difficult to know.

[00:34:59] François Rochon: Yeah, well I never tried to predict the stock market. I think it’s unpredictable. And, one lesson that was very useful to me, and lucky enough, it was not mistakes I did myself, but just watching other great investors. I want made names, but I remember a very brilliant investor that was a great stock picker really, but he was very prudent and he always kept 20% in cash.

[00:35:27] François Rochon: So his investments that the stocks CEO owned, let’s say that 14% annually, but having the 20% in cash yielding close to nothing, reduce his overall results to 10, 11% annual. So I observed that and I said, This doesn’t make sense. He’s such a great stocker. Why not be a hundred percent invested and just live with the ups and down the stock market?

[00:35:54] François Rochon: And, I learn a lot from that. So, I said to myself, my goal, my mission is to find great companies, to be an owner of great companies. It’s not to predict what the market will do. And when you have some cash in some ways you’re trying to predict the stock market.

[00:36:11] François Rochon: You’re trying to wait for a correction to invest that, five, 10, 20% in cash that you keep. And I think, the odds of being able to achieve that from my observation, are not that high.

[00:36:24] William Green: So do you never really have any cash? No, I don’t. And then when you get whacked in the short term, like we are seeing at the moment, which is a pretty painful and uncomfortable situation, and even for a lot of very prudent investors who are getting here quite hard, how do you deal with it emotionally?

[00:36:43] François Rochon: Well, personally, of course I don’t like it. It’s not a pleasant experience. I try to always go back to the idea that we own companies and try to focus on what’s happening with the companies.

[00:36:55] François Rochon: And what I try to do is every time there’s a correction about market, I try to see if there’s ways to improve the portfolio. So I’ll sell companies in the portfolio that either are not as undervalued as others, or that perhaps fundamentals are not as strong as usually when there’s a recession, you can see the companies that are strong and those are less strong than you hope for. So I’ll try to improve the portfolio because there’ll be opportunities with every market.

[00:37:26] François Rochon: There’s opportunities. So, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do Every time there’s a market correction, probably sell or reduce holdings that either the fundamental are not as strong as hoped for, or that valuation has not come down as much at the others. And increase the ones that I believe, are the most undervalued portfolio, if I’m right doing this technically, when the market, do rebound, the portfolio will have improved prospects going forward. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

[00:38:00] William Green: Is there anything particularly dramatic that you’ve done over the last couple of months where you think, Yeah, I’ve seen some kind of disruption where some area of the market’s been really clobbered and I’ve actually kind of seized the opportunity to upgrade the portfolio dramatically.

[00:38:14] François Rochon: I wouldn’t say dramatically, but, probably we purchased, made or four trades either selling or reducing one holding or buying or increasing one. Other holdings we’ve done three or four and we’re thinking of doing more because in the last few days, many of the securities and portfolio has gone down quite a lot and, some are getting at very attractive level.

[00:38:35] François Rochon: And like I always say, It makes sense to, to sell a company that, I don’t know, trade at 60% of intrinsic value to buy one that trades at 40% of intrinsic value. And in our markets you’ll have things like that.

[00:38:48] William Green: So can you mention one or two things, François, that you’ve been able to pick up that are particularly, I mean this won’t come out for a few weeks, so, but something that epitomizes what you do.

[00:39:00] William Green: So not so much as stock pickers, as something that gives a sense of your approach to, in a way, what Ben Graham said, that you’re making the market your servant, not your master.

[00:39:10] François Rochon: Yeah. Well one stock that we already own for a little more than two years is five below, which I think is a great company. And, the stock went down probably 35, 40% at some point and we increased. I think we reduced, well I remember we reduce Dollarama, which is a fine company, a great company in Canada, but I think the two we’re trading at similar P ratios. But I believe that five below will grow much faster in the years to come than Dollarama.

[00:39:40] François Rochon: So probably Dollarama is a more stable in terms of their revenue than profits. So the market gives it higher, multiple people. Cause these days, the market likes stability. But, I think over five years, five below will do better. So we just sold one that looked less attractive and Ed the one that, is more attractive. perhaps if I could took, take another example. One stock is down 20% today as we are speaking is, CarMax, I think it’s down to 67 and I believe, I don’t know exactly when, but within five or six years, the company can earn $12 a share. So at 67, if I’m right on that 20 of dollars a share, let’s say 2027 or 2028, this is a start that could, triple in value at least.

[00:40:27] François Rochon: So I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s already, well, it’s a lower in terms of size, but it’s already in our top five holding in the portfolio. But this is an example of a company we could increase. Of course, the results, the last quarter were a little disappointing, but I know that I’ve been owning CarMax for 15 years. I know that yes, it is a great company, but it is a such a company When there’s a slow down in the economy, go down and you have to accept that. But, if you have a long term horizon, I think that’s a great opportunity. The stock is down 50% in the last year. I don’t think the intrinsic value has gone down 50.

[00:41:07] William Green: A lot of your biggest holdings are things that you’ve owned for many years. I was looking through various old holdings of yours and I think Berkshire Hathaway, you bought in March, 2000 at the height of the tech bubble when it was under $30 a share, and now it’s what? 270? Even after this is for the B shares, even after dipping fairly substantially. CarMax, you bought in 2005. Dolarama 2010, and it’s gone up.

[00:41:30] François Rochon: I think CarMax was 2007.

[00:41:32] William Green: Okay.

[00:41:33] François Rochon: At a perfect timing just before the 2008-

[00:41:37] William Green: Yeah. Visa. You’ve owned since 2010, Google slash Alphabet since 2011. Markel since 2013. If you look at the common denominator among these very sort of integral positions in your portfolio, what do companies like that have in common that illustrate what you look for in a, in an outstanding business?

[00:41:58] François Rochon: Well, I think all the companies, you mentioned a combination of having great managers, but not only great businesses but kinda unique businesses. And the idea of having a boat is that I believe these companies as something special that gives them strong competitive advantage.

[00:42:19] François Rochon: But if I had to summarize in one sentence, I believe they have a unique business model and I mean if you’re Visa is very similar to MasterCard of course, but I think the two together, they’re as great businesses as you can find.

[00:42:35] François Rochon: I think Google also, that is fantastic business. I mean, it’s really dominating our world today. I don’t know exactly the number, but they probably have 40% of all ads on the internet or something that indirectly I think CarMax is a very unique business. I think they’ve got something like 4% market share of all the used cars, sold in the US every year.

[00:42:59] François Rochon: And I don’t think probably the closer now is carvana, but Carvana is not profitable yet. So I believe that CarMax has a very unique business model in it, Very well managed also. And, capital allocation is very important in the companies we look for. You talk about Berkshire Hathaway, but we could talk also of Ametech or Constellation software or MTY Foods. I think those three companies have a very strong history of intelligent capital allocation. And if you’re going to own company for 10 years, a lot of your returns will be, the fruits of, intelligent capital allocation over the years. And that’s one very important, criteria we look for.

[00:43:45] William Green: You obviously have invested primarily in the US over the years, but there’s an important component of your portfolio that’s Canadian companies, which is particularly interesting for the rest of us.

[00:43:56] William Green: Since you obviously have local knowledge of someone who’s lived in Canada for a long time. I remember once, I think last time we spoke, I don’t know if you had already picked out Constellation software, but I’m fascinated by that company because the ceo, or I guess the president he’s called, has a kind of cult following.

[00:44:14] William Green: He’s sort of often viewed in the same way as, as a Biza or a buffet in certain circles of the software world for example. Can you talk about that? cause I remember you saying at one point that really that entire investment in consolation software was based on the fact that you thought Mark Leonard was this extraordinary leader.

[00:44:33] François Rochon: Yes. I remember as yesterday, I think there was a Christmas. I was at some friend and a young friend of mine, very young, he asked me if I know this company, Constellation Software. And I was a little ashamed because I thought I knew all the great companies. So, said, No, I don’t. So I think it was almost on Christmas Eve, I read the 2000, well probably 2012 annual report of cancellation software written by, Mark Leonard.

[00:45:06] François Rochon: And I remember when I read that was love at first sight. I said, This is my kind of God. I knew it because 20 years of reading a reports, that was on the best I’ve read. And I of course did a little more research, read about the company, read the annual letters, tried to understand everything about the company. And probably a month later, I think the day after I read the annual report, I bought a few shares just to follow it. But a month later you made a sizable investment with the company and never sold a share. So that was almost, nine years ago.

[00:45:44] François Rochon: Yes, a few times. And then I think he’s a great guy. He’s a great human being, a great businessman that, as great as you can find.

[00:45:51] William Green: What makes him stand out as a business leader?

[00:45:55] François Rochon: That’s a good question. people want some scientific approach to, assessing managers, what makes a great manager. But I remember a friend of mine said, Well, this is the kind of person you’d like him to marry your daughter.

[00:46:14] François Rochon: And I think that sums, all the great managers, either Tom Gayner or Mark Leonard or Stanley Mo t y food, they’re great human beings. You want them to manage your capital. I mean, if I had to go away, I always use that analogy of the Gilligan Island test. If you’re stranded on the desert island for 10 years, and I remember the show at Gilligan Island.

[00:46:39] François Rochon: Yeah. Who would you entitle your capital with? And, that’s one question I asked myself. Do the CEO of the company we invest, I’ll be happy for him to manage our capital. If I’m stranding 10 years Long Island, and I think Mark Leonard, I would sleep very well at night. this, Rhode Island, knowing that he’s there in managing software.

[00:47:03] François Rochon: Same thing with Tom Gayner at Markel or Stanley Ma at MTY Food, of course. Warren Buffet at Berkshire.

[00:47:11] William Green: It’s actually, it’s a great insight with someone like Tom Gayner, who I know well, from Markel, which you’ve owned, I think for 10, 10 years now, practically. Yeah, it’s close. 10 years. I mean, Tom, you would, Yeah, you would just, if you keeled over, you’d say, before he keeled over, you’d say, Tom, can you just make sure my family’s okay financially?

[00:47:27] William Green: Like you manage the money and make sure it’s Yeah, he’s great. It’s great. Brilliant. Yeah, it’s interesting. That’s a great filter actually, to think of who you want to partner with, not just as a money manager, but as a ceo. And most of us, I think, because most of us don’t really think of our investments in such a long term way, we underestimate the importance of that personal element of that trust.

[00:47:52] François Rochon: Yeah. And these are not easy to explain because they’re kind of subjective. They’re based on judgment. And, but you know, as you get more experience, I think that’s something that, comes with experience.

[00:48:07] François Rochon: Better judgment. Well, I like to think so, and that judgment helps us, select great people because, we’ve heard a lot, seen a lot. And, we can see, great managers because they’re so rare. And I would probably go back to the art analogy here.

[00:48:27] François Rochon: When you go to museums and go to and visit, the best museums in the world, pretty quickly you can see which are the greatest artists. And so I always say that beauty is hard to describe, but when I see it, I know it. And I would say that if you look at lot of art in your life, you’ll be able to identify masterpieces. Think it’s the same thing with companies and CEOs. If you see a lot of them, if you read a lot of annual reports and you study a lot of companies and hate a lot of business men and business women over the years, after a while you’ll be able to identify the really great ones.

[00:49:07] William Green: I wanted to talk in some detail about art because a lot of our listeners won’t know that you’ve invested very heavily in art over the years and you have this, corporate art collection, Well, that’s really your art collection, but it’s called the Corporate Art Collection and-

[00:49:20] François Rochon: It is a corporate art collection.

[00:49:21] William Green: But I remember you saying to me once that you basically put half of your share of the earnings into art and oak battle, a quarter of it. Really crazy. yeah. No, I love it. and a quarter, I think you said you were saving to build a museum one day. And so art is a very fundamental part of your life.

[00:49:40] William Green: And I once talked to you about Roy Newberger, the great art collector and money manager who, Whose son Jimmy I know well. And And Roy Newberger really went into the art business, into the money management business, largely to fund his art collecting. And you said much the same, right? You said to me once, Yeah, I may have gone into the investing business kind of to fund my art collecting as well.

[00:49:59] William Green: So it’s very fundamental to who you are, right? Your art collecting. Yeah, I think so. Yes. This idea you mentioned before of uniqueness is really important, and I wanted to talk about a bit more because you said to me once that just as you look for uniqueness in business models, that’s really what you’re looking for in art.

[00:50:19] William Green: Can you talk about the parallel between buying great art and buying great companies?

[00:50:27] François Rochon: It’s a similar process. I would say probably the biggest difference is when I buy work of art, I never want to sell it as when I purchase a stock. Ideally, I would want to keep it for many years, but I realize that most of them, at some point you have to sell it.

[00:50:43] François Rochon: So I would say that’s probably the biggest difference. But besides that, I think the process is very similar. I really try to find the best of the best in French we say. So, I want to find who are the greatest artists. Not only that, what is the greatest creation period and what were the best work of art?

[00:51:07] François Rochon: And I think it’s same thing with companies. You want to find the greatest companies, but you have to realize that. Same with artists, companies have great periods and not so great periods. So you have to be able to identify that probably the company that you’re thinking of investing is really it’s best period of growth and, compared to the best period of creation for an artist.

[00:51:34] François Rochon: So you, I think to be able to identify that, you really have to understand in depth the artists and the companies you’re studying. It’s also the fact that you have to look at a lot of companies and a lot of artists to be able to identify those rare artists, those rare great companies. And I think Peter Olin shows that analogy that it’s like looking for pearls.

[00:52:00] François Rochon: You have to open a lot of oysters. The more oyesters, you open, the more pearls you are likely to find. So I think that’s the same thing. You have to look at many companies or the work of many artists. And I think another ingredient needed is you have to love the process. I mean, it’s not work.

[00:52:20] François Rochon: Going to museums and looking at great artworks, cause I enjoy it. I really love it. And it’s the same thing with companies. I want to study companies. I’m not thinking I’m working, I’m enjoying myself. And nothing excites me as finding a new company at Indo about and realizing a little bit like Constellation software some nine years ago that, wow, that’s a fantastic company.

[00:52:45] François Rochon: I’m really happy that I found that and I want to learn everything about it. So it is a very similar process, but I think the key thing, the two key things, you have to enjoy the process and you have to look at a lot of things. If you want to be able to identify the rare masterpieces, both in the art world and the corporate world.

[00:53:07] William Green: You also said something that really fascinated me when we, when I interviewed you, my book Richer Wiser Happier where you, This didn’t get into the book in the end, and I hope I’ll get to write about it in my next book if I ever dare to climb the mountain again. But you talked about the beauty of certain businesses and we discussed Starbucks for example, and you said Starbucks is a beautiful company.

[00:53:28] William Green: And then you talked to me about the fact that Buffet almost teared up and choked up when he talked about a company like Iscar, that there was a kind of beauty there. Can you talk about that idea of the beauty of certain businesses, because it’s such a, it’s something that most of us don’t really think about, but it’s clearly there.

[00:53:47] William Green: What are you seeing that also in a sense is paralleling what you’re seeing in a work of art that has a beauty and a cleanness and a purity and a perfection to it?

[00:53:56] François Rochon: Well, it’s not easy, like I said a few minutes earlier. Beauty is, I know it when I see it, but I think the beauty usually is simple. Like you say, it’s pure, but it’s very simple. You look at it and very quickly you realize that you’re in front of something special. And I think all those great companies I’ve seen over the years, usually when I read their, when I look at the balance sheet of the number, it’s a very simple business.

[00:54:22] François Rochon: There’s not too much things capitalized when you look at the cash flow statement. It’s beautiful. You look at the, the net free cash flow year, it’s always throwing more cash under spending and the excess is either allocated to acquisition or dividend or start buybacks. But basically it’s a simple accounting. It’s a simple, business. They’ve got a simple balance sheet.

[00:54:48] François Rochon: I remember the first year I remember reading the annual report of Microsoft. I don’t know which year, Probably 1994. they had nothing on the balance sheet, excess cash, a lot of cash, but that was it. I mean, how easy it is to understand that you can see that, all, everything that tends to be expense is expense. Nothing is capitalized. And even after that, they make, 25% net margin. So, I mean, this is the experience I have when I read that. I think it’s great, It’s beautiful, it’s simple, it’s easy to understand and that’s what I want to focus. I want the companies that are easy to understand, that have clearly something special and something simple.

[00:55:30] François Rochon: The problem is things change or sometimes companies can be very strong and very beautiful for many years, but the dynamic of the industry changes or they make a acquisition that turn out not as expected. So you have to accept that also, that contrary to a work of art that stays static, that stays always beautiful. Companies are a living organism. So it changed constantly. So you have to accept that what can be beautiful in one year, five years can be quite different. So that’s just the nature of investing. But I think that makes it also very interesting.

[00:56:11] William Green: There’s something about this idea of simplicity that’s really profound to me, and I end up writing a whole chapter about it in my book.

[00:56:18] William Green: And when I was reading through your shareholder letters over the last few days, this really leaped out at me. I jotted this down from your 2020 letter shareholders where you wrote. As always, our philosophy remains very simple. We own approximately 20 companies with solid balance sheets, conservative accounting, a durable competitive advantage, and a management team dedicated shareholders.

[00:56:39] William Green: And of course, we are always cautious about the price that we are willing to pay. And it really struck me as a beautiful example of the way that the best investors kind of simplify this extraordinarily complex game. And I just wondered if you could talk about this idea of simplistic, cause we live in such a complicated world and we’re also confused so much of the time that it seems like a kind of superpower to be able to reduce the game to this kind of simple essence.

[00:57:08] François Rochon: Yes. I think it goes back to when I started to invest, probably it was Warren Buffet that took the, baseball analogy and, used the example of Ted Williams in this book called, Science of It. He had this very systematic way of, analyzing, his spring average depending on where the ball was and the strike zone.

[00:57:29] François Rochon: So I think it’s subdivided the strike zone in, 77 baseballs and calculated this batting average for every one of the seven, seven zones, and discovered that in some zones he was batting 400, but in some other zones he was batting 240. So I said, Well, if I want to maintain a good batting average, I think it did, because I think his lifetime batting average is 3 44.

[00:57:56] François Rochon: Well, he had to be very disciplined and very selective. But the disadvantage of that approach is when the ball is in the area of two 40, you have to be disciplined enough not to swing, even though if it’s in the strike zone. So when that happened, you have a strike called up against you. In the stock market, you don’t have that. You can have a perfect ball in the middle of the plate, but you have the luxury of not swinging if you don’t want to.

[00:58:25] François Rochon: You don’t have any call strikes in the investment world. And Warren Buffet said that’s the most beautiful thing about. So by trying to simplify things, what we’re trying to do really is to focus on those, 400 zone in the strike zone where, ads are very high that we will won’t have it if we swing and think that’s just that the more simple you get down to it, when you follow or analyze a company, I think the odds of having good returns increase and you have the luxury of waiting for the perfect ball.

[00:59:00] François Rochon: But of course, if you never swing anything, you won’t have much return. So that’s the equivalent of being cash. So that’s the trick. You sometimes you have to swing perhaps not perfect balls that are probably in the 280 or two 90 zone and sometimes you have to accept the press.

[00:59:19] François Rochon: You’ll have a little lower average cause you couldn’t get a perfect ball. But I think if you’re very patient, you’ll have your chances in your investment career to have. Great opportunities and great opportunities by definition are simple. I mean, all the great investments, think I done were very simple businesses. the valuation was reasonable and I knew the manager knows great.

[00:59:41] François Rochon: And sometimes when I get into more complicated things that, it didn’t turn out, as well as expected.

[00:59:49] William Green: And you have a short list, I think, not that shorter list. I remember reading that your firm tracks about 350 stocks very closely. So you have this list of companies that you are just kind of tracking and waiting for the moment when they become cheap enough for you to buy.

[01:00:04] François Rochon: Yes. And also there’s many of those 240 or 50, that you mentioned that we just want to follow with them very closely and press, we’re not a hundred percent sure that, there are kind of secrets. we want to be sure that we understand the companies very well, and it’s easier when you follow them very closely.

[01:00:23] François Rochon: But out of those 300 or so, that’s probably 80 and 90 or perhaps a hundred companies. That really, it depends just on the price. If the price was low enough or the valuation was reasonable enough, we would invest, yes.

[01:00:42] William Green: It’s curious to me, going back to what you were talking about with art, that in a sense this is one area where it’s very hard to assess the intrinsic value of anything.

[01:00:52] William Green: It seems somewhat arbitrary and you are, unlike the stocks that you are looking at, where you can assess the intrinsic value of a business with the art that you’re acquiring. A lot of it is actually contemporary art. It’s not past masters where you know, from old masters that they’ve survived the test of time of three or 400 years.

[01:01:11] William Green: It almost seems like you’re approaching art as a venture capitalist where as you described it to me last time we spoke, you’re looking to acquire artworks will be considered important in 20 years. I’m sorry, had a lot of half bake thoughts here to you, but can you talk a little bit about that?

[01:01:27] François Rochon: Yes, I believe I have a similar approach to art. I don’t think I’m a venture capitalist, in art. some, yes, some young artists I’ll purchase, work because I think they’re very interesting and I believe they got a great future. But most of the, artworks I purchase are from artists that I believe, I may be wrong, but I believe that they already are important.

[01:01:53] François Rochon: They already are great museums and have a singular and unique voice. And I’m pretty sure that in 50, 60 years when we want to, look at what are the most important artists of our time, we’ll select those artists. I mean, for instance, I think James Dorell or Phil Viola, two great American artists.

[01:02:16] François Rochon: They’re not that well known for the general public. But I don’t think any museum’s director would argue that they’re important artists. One in the, light art and the other in the video art. And, I don’t think any museum director would argue that in 50 years they’ll be considered important.

[01:02:35] François Rochon: Perhaps they’re a little too contemporary to be known for the general public as Tableau, Picasso, or Jackson Pollock. But I think in 20, 30, 40 years they’ll be considered, probably, close to be as important, as those great artists.

[01:02:51] William Green: You’ve obviously met some extraordinary people over the years, François, both in the investing world and in the art world, and I wanted to ask you about a couple of.

[01:03:00] William Green: I mean, obviously you went also to meet Peter Lynch, so I’d love to hear about that. But also Lou Simpson, who died earlier this year, was obviously an important force in your life and you’ve also described meeting Count Panza de bmo, whose name I’m definitely mispronouncing, who you’ve described as the greatest collector of contemporary art in history, who I think you met back in 2009 in Italy.

[01:03:24] William Green: Could you talk about a couple of those people, Lou Simpson and this count, who I think clearly have had a big effect on you and your way of seeing the world?

[01:03:32] François Rochon: Oh yes. Well, Peter Lynch was the first money manager I read about, and has been a model since. Of course, he was very diversified, I think when he managed, Magellan Fund. I think he owned 500, 600 names. So it was a little different than, my approach. But, he did very well and he really had an incredible passion for finding great companies, young companies that, were on the verge of having great years of growth.

[01:04:00] François Rochon: And, as for Lou, while Lou is one, was one of those great investors that own very few securities, probably 10 or 12 or something like that. And I always admire how you could summarize in one or two sentences the strength of a business. And, I remember, it was because of him with Schwab and he compared Charles Schwab Company to Geico and, basically saying that like Geico, Schwab had a structural advantage to all those big competitors.

[01:04:37] François Rochon: So, he understood very profoundly that companies invested in and, admired him a lot. And he had lots of lessons, to teach. And, like you say, very sadly, passed away the beginning of the year. As for the Camp Panza, Yes, I met him in, that was probably six months before he passed away, and that was probably one of the most important meanings of my life because I met, like I said, I think the greatest contemporary art collector of all time. He didn’t have the resources of some billionaire today that can purchase almost anything they like, and it’s good for them, but, yeah, limited resources. So he was very selective that could only purchase artists that were not yet very well known. And he looked everything. I mean, he knew almost all great artists or all important artists, at the Avan Gal in the 1950s, sixties, seventies, eighties, and exactly as I described, he had the approach of looking at many artists, like if you are printing a lot of oysters, and identify the great ones, finding those rare pearls.

[01:05:51] François Rochon: And I think he was great at it then, because he was so passionate, because he knew all the history of art. I mean, in his house, he had all the books on the history of art starting probably, with the Italian Renaissance. So, he was knowledgeable, he was humble, he was curious, and he read everything. He could find out anything.

[01:06:12] François Rochon: And that’s why it was so. I think he had, I don’t know today how the succession has managed it, but I think at some point he had probably 2,500 worth of art, most of them, important works of art. So it was, I think, and now that many of them are in museums, but I think he had something Robert Reer that he had purchased in the early years, or Donald Jad, was not known at all. So I would say he was a great art picker. Probably the greatest of all time.

[01:06:43] William Green: So in a way, there’s a common denominator with these people that you admire, that I also see in your own approach of this extreme selectivity, whether it’s with great art or great businesses, weight obsessively, learning, passionately, learning about the subjects, seeing a lot of companies, a lot of artists, and then being extremely selective in going after, after quality. Is that a fair conclusion?

[01:07:10] François Rochon: Yes, because what is exceptional by definition is rare. So if you want to find them, you have to lift a lot of rods. You have to look for it. And if it’s not something you enjoy with passion, you won’t have the per it, the persistence necessary to look everywhere. But when you enjoy it, it’s like watching baseball games.

[01:07:32] François Rochon: If you enjoy baseball and you’re watching three baseball games a day, it’s not work. You enjoy it. And after a while, you probably all know all the great players and you can identify which one you would put on your team if you are, team manager.

[01:07:44] William Green: So I was thinking about this last night, François. So cause I, I probably worked till about midnight or thereabouts, reading your, letter off to letter of yours.

[01:07:52] William Green: And then I get up early this morning and then keep going with it. And I don’t know, it, it didn’t seem to me like work. It’s interesting, it’s really engaging. I’m looking at this stuff and I’m like, Oh, that’s how he thinks. That’s what he’s figured out. And it’s very hard to fake that, like actually finding it inherently interesting.

[01:08:09] William Green: So I’m as happy to do that research as I would be to watch Netflix. You know what I mean? that kind of, that feeling. I think this runs through every profession where I think you kind of Munger talks about this, right? That you have to find something where it doesn’t really feel like work.

[01:08:23] François Rochon: Yeah. You have to enjoy it and have a passion for it. And, I think you want to understand also the fundamental nature of any field that you study and all the fields either being philosophy or psychology or DRS or these sciences. They’re complex fields. There’s many layers, but if you enjoy them and you enjoy reading about them, it’s slowly, you’ll learn.

[01:08:50] François Rochon: It’s like kind of a osmosis process. It’s very slowly goes into your blood and, I think that’s how you get, passionate. Then, this passion is transformed to, something concrete. You can do something constructive with that interest, like building art collection or a portfolio securities.

[01:09:12] William Green: I remember Monish Pabrai one, who I guess in some ways had a similar kind of predilection for science and engineering and the like. I think he’d studied electronic engineering once said to me that when he started to study Buffet, he realized that Buffet had kind of revealed the laws were investing and that they were as immutable as the laws of physics.

[01:09:33] William Green: And I was wondering if you had that same sense as you were studying investing. As someone who came from a scientific background, an engineering background, loved physics, did you have a sense that you were kind of cracking the code, that you were discovering these kind of laws were investing that are kind of immutable almost?

[01:09:50] François Rochon: Yes. when I started, I was very enthusiastic. I remember when I read, Warren Buffett’s letters, I really felt like I understood something that many of people don’t understand, and it always alludes me why many people don’t really understand the fundamentals of the equity investing. It always intrigues me why someone would sell his portfolio because it’s down 25% and he fears that they will go down another 10%, so he sells and hope to buy later.

[01:10:23] François Rochon: I don’t understand that. I mean, I don’t think it makes sense. The only explanation is that the think they let their fears and emotions get the better of the rationality that probably they do possess. So probably one part of the investment success is not only knowing about the principles, but having the right behavior.

[01:10:50] François Rochon: Everyone has emotions, but I think you have to be rational when you decide to take actions. Emotions is one thing and actions is another thing, so you shouldn’t act on emotions. You always should act on reason and rationality. And, I think that’s the right behavior that the Warren buffet does, explain, over and over I’ve been going to annual meeting for, I don’t know, 23 years.

[01:11:17] François Rochon: Every year he explain the importance of having their, the right attitude toward market fluctuations. But it’s hard because people are emotional and sometimes they, even though they understand the concept of, buying hold and you should not sell in the downturn, some people it’s just very hard to resist the fears that they have to they could lose money. And I think in your book you talked about the, my theory of the tribal gene.

[01:11:49] William Green: Yeah. I love that idea. Can you explain it? I thought it was such a beautiful insight.

[01:11:54] François Rochon: My idea is that as human beings, we have this gene that, has been, passed on over thousands and thousands of years, that I call it the tribal gene.

[01:12:05] François Rochon: That when the tribe, is running one way, we have the urge of following the tribe just because it’s for our own security. And that was the right thing to do, 30,000 years ago when there was a big tiger coming in the village.

[01:12:18] François Rochon: So, I think that tribal gene has been passed on and it’s part of the DNA of most humans, but for some reasons, my own personal theory that has no scientific basis at all except for observations, is that probably something like 5% of human beings don’t have that gene.

[01:12:39] François Rochon: They are able to go left when most of the tribe goes right. And I think I call it the, absentee gene because it’s missing the missing gene. So I believe that great investors, great artists, great philosophers, great scientists, don’t have a tribal gene for some reason. Probably just nature of, odds being born that way.

[01:13:03] François Rochon: And because they have this missing. They able to go left when everyone goes right. And I think if you have your genetic intact, so you add the gene, I think it’s very hard to be, because you won’t be able to go right when everyone is going, not suc, when the stock market is down. So I think one part of the success of great money managers is that they have this missing.

[01:13:32] François Rochon: They don’t have the tribal gene. And, that’s my theory from observation. I think it’s same thing with great artists and, great thinkers and great builders.

[01:13:42] William Green: I certainly see it with writers as well. I mean, I, maybe I’m flattering myself. I’m not saying that I’m a great writer, but I don’t have the tribal gene.

[01:13:49] William Green: There’s something like profoundly independent about the way I live my life, and I think that’s one reason why I’m drawn to certain investors. They’re profoundly independent. And so I sort of saw the same thing in a lot of the great investors I’ve written about, that they’re straying from the herd and then they’re solving these problems in an incredibly independent spirited way, trying to figure out how to live, how to invest, how to break the code of the markets.

[01:14:13] William Green: I mean, if I’m honest about it, the dumb thing about this is that, I have that characteristic, but I went into a profession that’s craply paid in comparison to investing. So you guys were wiser and, maybe, I don’t know, I’m being facetious, but you guys were shrewder about channeling your non-tribal nature in a more profitable way than US writers.

[01:14:34] François Rochon: Well, I don’t know about that, but, I know for sure there’s more to, to wealth that’s also having a happy life when you enjoy getting up in the morning and loving what you do. And if it’s writing,

[01:14:45] François Rochon: that’s the right choice. Of course. To go back to the missing gene, I think when you talk about great investors or great artists, great writers, great scientists, really what you’re saying is you’re talking about people that have creativity.

[01:15:01] François Rochon: They build something that wasn’t there before they go uncharted territories, uncharted path. And to be able to do that, you have to be able to go into a path that has not been drawn before. And I think you need the capacity to not follow the tribe, to be able to go into uncharted territories, but that’s the ingredient for creativity.

[01:15:28] William Green: It seems like part of it for you, François as well, is that like people like Ben Graham and Munger, you have this kind of polymath tendency to be reading from all sorts of different fields and drawing connections that necessarily obvious. So, we talked before about you quoting from of its meta oroc, but I remember you quo from the counter Monte Cristo, which is like this 1400 page French novel set in the 19th century.

[01:15:54] William Green: And, but you’d also be studying history and psychology and philosophy and then you have your science background. Can you talk about why it’s a benefit to have this kind of very problematic approach to reading and gathering insights from all these different areas?

[01:16:11] François Rochon: Well, I do believe it’s a benefit, but I don’t think, benefits are the main goal. To me at least. The main goal is I’m just passionate and interested. I’m curious. I like to learn about history and philosophy and cultures and arts and science and how things work. it’s just, I’m just interested and curious and passionate, but I do believe that the more fields you understand, the better you can understand as a whole, the human race, human nature.

[01:16:44] François Rochon: And I think when you understand human nature, you have more tools to understand investing because corporations, they’re not made of robots, they’re made of human beings. And, they act, even though it’s a corporation, it’s all system. Act as a group of human beings would act.

[01:17:06] François Rochon: And some do well, some less well. But, in the end it’s really about understanding, human beings. And like we talked about, I mean, the reason I invested, in cancellation software was because of Mark Leonard, I think is a great human being. So if you want to understand, I think you have to study all the fields that they are involved in.

[01:17:28] François Rochon: And I think, was it the Charlie Munger that said that, a man with a hammer looks at problem as a nail? Well, I think, the more kind of, the more different numbers of hammers you have, the more different type of nails you’ll be able to dress. So I think that’s the same thing you

[01:17:45] William Green: Yeah. I think you said to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. So it’s man with a hammer syndrome is what you want to avoid.

[01:17:52] François Rochon: Yes. so, I think that’s the key thing. I think the more feels you understand, probably your understanding of human nature will increase. But again, I think the key factor there is it’s not work. You have to do it because you enjoy it and you’re curious and you want to learn about it because you won’t really learn if you’re not really passionate about it.

[01:18:16] William Green: Yeah, I think you’re totally right. I end up reading obsessively about all these weird, esoteric things like sort of, Tibetan Buddhism and the like, or Kavalah and then, and it’s not cause I’m trying to please anyone or get any particular payoff, but you end up, because you are looking in these weird areas, you end up coming up with these insights so you’re like, Oh, I see the same thing in the stock market or in business or in literature.

[01:18:40] William Green: And so yeah, it’s, you can’t really fake the interest, but if you have the interest, if you harness some weird interest like that, it ends up yielding in incredible benefits I think. One thing, François, before I let you go, the, I wanted to ask you about that. I feel like you’ve figured something out that’s really important that a lot of people haven’t figured out, which is, you write a lot in your letters over the years about the importance of unwavering optimism.

[01:19:07] William Green: And I think it’s really, it’s a really interesting insight. here we are in this very difficult period where we’re getting hit with inflation and there’s, the market has been kind of melting down and, there are fears of recession and there’s war in Ukraine and the like. And it seems to me that one of your secret weapons is one that, so John Templeton also had, which is that you’re an unwavering optimist.

[01:19:28] William Green: And I wonder if you could talk about why you are and why you have this kind of confidence in what you call the world of free enterprise.

[01:19:35] François Rochon: Yes, you’re right. I think nothing was ever built on pessimism. I think you never make wise decision with fears. I think optimism is an important ingredient to success. Not the only ingredient, but one important ingredient. I would say if you study human history and you go back many years in the past, I think the only conclusion is that you cannot be not amazed of how much we’ve improved over the last centuries. I mean, just in terms of technology, it’s incredible the changes that we’ve made, and you have to understand what is the fountainhead of those improvements, and it’s the human mind is just inventing things, creating things, finding ways of doing things better, always very slowly and not in a linear fashion.

[01:20:34] François Rochon: Of course, there’s some tough periods and some better periods, but over a long period of time, the improvement has been quite steady and quite impressive. I mean, the standard le of living has probably doubled every 25 years in the last century, which is incredible. And, so people worry about, climate change and they’re right to, to be worried and they worry that, we won’t have any, more oil and, we’ll have to find alternate energy.

[01:21:06] François Rochon: And I think they’re right too. Not necessarily that, we’ll, we won’t have any, oil left, but I think we do have to find better sources of energy. But what will bring those changes, those improvements, either for energy or fixing climate change? Will come from ideas and the human mind. And if you think about it, the all the great progresses of the last century came from idea. Nothing really has changed in our environment, that nature and the human nature. But we find ways to always improve things because we have this drive as human beings of never being satisfied. We will always want to improve our situation.

[01:21:54] François Rochon: And I think this drive is very powerful and gives me the feeling that, things will always. There’ll be, there’ll be tough periods, There’ll be, crisis and catastrophes. I accept that and I’ve been accepting that for 30 years. And, I’ve seen the recessions, I’ve seen, terrorist attacks. I’ve seen, a lot of crisis in many countries. But in the end, I think, the human race always advances forward.

[01:22:24] François Rochon: And, the right approach is to be optimistic and we’ll find solutions to all of our problems. Just, we have to put our minds to it. But I’m confident that the survival gene, this is probably the most, the strongest gene we have. We want to survive, We want to move forward, is a very, great fuel for human investment.

[01:22:46] François Rochon: And, pretty optimistic is going to continue. I would say that in the next, I don’t know if it’s going to be around 50 years, but I’m pretty sure if I’m around our standard of living will increased by percent, then live even better than we’re today. And I’m pretty c that we’ll find solutions to all our big problems, climate changes and inflation.

[01:23:10] William Green: I think part of what I like François, is that your optimism isn’t a naive temperamental impulse, that just infuses everything. It’s built very much on a kind of data driven knowledge of the past. And so remember, for example, reading in one of your letters, you talked about a Tale of two sitters by Charles Dickens, and you said that since its publication in the 1850s, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty in the world has fallen from 87% to less than 10% today.

[01:23:39] William Green: And you mentioned that the average standard of living has increased by a factor of more than 25 times since the book was published in 1859. So you look at that and you think, this isn’t naive. This has happened, this is our history, and think of all the terrible things that we’ve been through in that last 160 years since that book came out.

[01:23:56] William Green: And likewise, there’s an extraordinary table that I think you originally drew up during the 2008, 2009 financial crisis and then published again or updated in March, 2020 at the initial height of the Covid Pandemic where you listed 14, I think, major corrections over the last, I think 60 or so years, followed by these massive rebounds.

[01:24:19] William Green: And it was very striking to me. Again, it’s a data driven reason for optimism. you listed, for example, in I think 1973 to 74, the market fell something like 48% and then was followed by 106% gain over the next five years or so. And this process seems to have happened again and again. Can you talk about that sense of just that the sun also rises, right?

[01:24:43] William Green: That, here we are going through a difficult period and yet when you look back historically again and again, the sun also rises.

[01:24:52] François Rochon: Yes. It’s the lesson that the, if you study a human ministry, that’s the lesson that, remember Im Lincoln said 150 years ago, so this two shall pass away. And then Grants said that, this phrases summarize the whole human history things pass, crisis passed. And in the end, the human race continues to always improve things and move forward. And I would say same thing with companies like we talked at the beginning of the interview, companies grow their earning six, 7% yearly and give a 2% dividend on average. So that’s a eight or 9% return for stock. So of course when they go down 30, 40, 50%, there’s every reason to believe that within five or six or seven years, they’ll make new records. Just because earnings continue to increase increasing earnings at

[01:25:48] François Rochon: 7% annually, double that whole earning in the US every 10 years. So it makes sense that every 10 years, the s and p 500 or the industrial average doubles in value because earnings have double over the last 10 years. And there’ll be a recession of course, and earnings will go without recession, but they’ll rebound and, eventually they’ll make new records.

[01:26:13] François Rochon: So I think that’s very reassuring to understand that because you know that they’ll be tough times, but if you patient, you’ll be reward.

[01:26:22] William Green: It’s beautiful cause it means you have to understand these fundamental forces that are at play here, Like the power of intrinsic value, growing the power of productivity, increasing the power of human ingenuity to solve problems.

[01:26:35] William Green: But once you kind of understand that you don’t really need to be that naive to be optimistic. I suspect.

[01:26:42] François Rochon: No, I don’t think I’m naive, but just realistic. That’s just the nature of our human society. And there’s some very bad things I couldn’t agree with more. I mean, everything you read about tragedies and terrible things that happen all over the world.

[01:26:58] François Rochon: But there’s also great things, great accomplishment, great things that civilization have built over the years. And you have to look at that either also. Both are important. And, in the end, I think the overall balance is that, more good have come out of the human ministry than that.

[01:27:16] William Green: You also have this box in all of your quarterly letters called Philosophers Corner, where you often have these great quotes, and I particularly like this quote from Winston Churchill that you used where you quote him saying, Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.

[01:27:33] William Green: And it strikes me as a consistent thread in what you’ve been discussing, whether it’s art, collecting, saving to set up a museum one day in Montreal, which I hope you’ll get to do to display all this wonderful art that you’ve been collecting or building a collection of great businesses over the years.

[01:27:51] William Green: It seems like that kind of continuous effort, that perseverance, whether you look at a, an art collector like your Italian mentor or someone like Peter Lynch, just turning over a million rocks to find good businesses. It seems like that prosaic ability just to keep plugging away, making continuous effort is kind of the secret to a lot of these things.

[01:28:12] François Rochon: Oh, yes. I believe, to use a, a bridge analogy, I think that persistence and patient trumps intelligence and strength. I mean, persistence, I think is the key ingredient to all the great human achievement and patience. Also, it’s basically the same thing but, persistence plus patience, again, equal a great reward.

[01:28:36] François Rochon: But, you have to accept that you’ll have some bumps in the road and you’ll have some setbacks. But if keep working hard and because you enjoy it becauseyou have great goals eventually. If you have to write, approach the right values and you keep at it, think eventually, things will turn out well.

[01:28:57] William Green: François, I think I should let you go. You’ve shown extreme patience in putting up with hours of my questions, so thank you so much.

[01:29:05] François Rochon: Oh, it’s a pleasure, William.

[01:29:07] William Green: And I’ve learned a great deal from you over the years, and as I was looking over my notes this morning from our last interview and going over your shareholder letters, it just made me think, Wow, this guy’s really figured out a lot of stuff.

[01:29:18] François Rochon: Wow. You’re very kind. But don’t worry, I still make lots of mistakes. That’s the thing. I can improve.

[01:29:23] William Green: Join the club. But no, you’ve thought deeply about some really important things, and I’m looking forward to interviewing you more, I hope, over the years to come and continuing to learn a great deal from you. So thank you very much.

[01:29:34] François Rochon: Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

[01:29:37] William Green: All right, folks. Thanks so much for listening to this conversation with François Rochon. I hope you found it as interesting and enlightening as I did. I’ll be back very soon with some fantastic guests, including a legendary investor named Joel Tillinghast, who manages about 70 billion.

[01:29:53] William Green: Peter Lynch, who hired Tillinghast at Fidelity 36 years ago, has said that he’s one of the greatest and most successful stock pickers of all time. So I hope you’ll join me then. In the meantime, please feel free to follow me on Twitter @WilliamGreen72. And do let me know how you are liking the podcast. I’m always delighted to hear from you. Until then, take care and stay well.

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