The original meaning of ‘priority’ was singular — the very first thing. At Eventide, our investing priority is to own businesses that seek to advance the global common good.
One of our favorite books that we read in the last year was Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Essentialism is defined as “the relentless pursuit of less, but better.” How many of our individual and corporate lives are overloaded? The book wryly describes staff meetings that have ten “top priorities” without any sense of irony. Even the English language has been evolving:
The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things. (McKeown, p. 16)
This reminder should challenge all of us in nearly all domains of life. In investing, in particular, one cannot have multiple priorities. This, of course, does not mean that only one thing will happen — it means that we can only truly follow one ‘lighthouse.’ We have made the case that the lighthouse should not be financial returns but promotion of the global common good. While this can seem counterintuitive at first, we believe the best way to generate attractive, long-term, risk-adjusted returns for our investors is to seek to invest in companies that best serve the needs of others. In pursuing that one goal, we believe financial returns generally follow as a happy byproduct.
One of the other thoughts that McKeown offers is the idea that we’re not living merely in information overload but in opinion overload. (Think of how many, often contradictory, opinions there are about dieting strategies.) It’s easy to sympathize with the average investor who is bombarded with investing advice that makes the enterprise utterly confusing.
Our investment advice is not first and foremost about financial ratios and prognostications, but an appeal to the purpose of investing, and even of business itself. Our hope is that the “why” of investing will illuminate the “how” and the “what.