Sailing upwind pays off for Nanuk’s Tom King

Wednesday 7th July 2021 Penny Pryor

As athletes make their preparations for the upcoming Olympic Games, former sailing gold medallist, and now fund manager at sustainable investment manager Nanuk Asset Management, Tom King, predicts that these Games will see a number of records broken.

“I think these Games are going to be really interesting because of the way that COVID has affected things. I think we’re going to see some extraordinary performances from people who have been able to focus,” he says.

King and Mark Turnbull won a gold medal in the 470 Class for sailing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. King subsequently graduated from engineering at Melbourne University and then worked as an industrial consultant in manufacturing for a short period.

“That quickly led me to start thinking about how do you do work that makes the world more efficient and a better place, and capitalise on that opportunity economically,” he says.

“That then led me into funds management in 2002. I started out nearly 20 years ago with a real interest in doing something that was going to make the world better but trying to find a way with some leverage to achieve results,” he says.

Ahead of the pack

King and the founders at Nanuk Asset Management were trailblazers when they established the fund manager in 2009, adopting a sustainable investment approach well before most investors caught up to its ability to not only transform the world for good, but to also achieve superior returns.

“It’s been a long and painful journey. We started at least five years earlier than might have been sensible but that’s put us in a good position [today],” King says.

“We started the business because we thought there was going to be a long term set of opportunities arising from what, to us, appeared fairly obvious environmental issues.”

Nanuk focusses on companies positioned to benefit from a transition to cleaner and more sustainable technologies. King says that the majority of these opportunities are in the rest of the world and they don’t have any current exposure to Australian companies.

“To be frank we’re a laggard when it comes to climate change and when it comes to decarbonising the economy, we are an embarrassing laggard globally,” King says.

Future plans

The asset manager is growing, hiring Peter Wilmshurst as portfolio manager earlier this year, and King expects they will branch out into other investment classes.

“The primary focus is delivering good returns in the strategy we have got and that’s not an easy thing to do but the opportunities are certainly there,” he says.

“Assuming we can do a good job, there is a huge opportunity over the next couple of decades to grow what we do and look at other products and look at other asset classes as well.”

“There are interesting opportunities in areas like infrastructure and private assets. There is an interesting opportunity to do something similar in fixed income. We’ve talked for a long time about doing things in private equity and venture capital.”

A winning combination

Although it may not seem obvious at first, King says there are many similarities between sailing and funds management, not least the ability to make complicated decisions under pressure.

“Sailing is a really interesting sport. At a low level it’s about making a boat go around course. At a high level it’s a really interesting game played out against a competitive fleet. It’s a game of risk reward where you are continually betting against the rest of the fleet and on what the wind will do in the future,” he says.

“It’s a series of well educated guesses and every now and then you can position yourself to significantly benefit from what’s likely to happen.”

And that’s not too dissimilar to the role of a portfolio manager, trying to find the best investment opportunities in a sea of possibilities.

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