"Clear, calm and concise": Getting to know Fat Prophets' Simon Wheatley August 2017

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Simon Wheatley's early transition from real estate to finance was "unexpected but rewarding" and lead him to a 17 year career as a banker with Goldman Sachs before his most recent role as Fat Prophets' chief investment officer, charged with running the firm's new REIT focussed LIC. Today we find out a little about what makes him tick, including the embodiment of his style, his upbringing in rural NSW, his experience working on Wall Street, and why he's always chasing the snow.

What initially attracted you towards a career in financial services?

I actually did not seek, it – it sought me! My experience in direct real estate as an institutional real estate valuer with Jones Lang LaSalle saw me targeted by stockbrokers who were seeking experienced real estate market employees to transfer that experience to the stock market as an analyst of listed property trusts. In hindsight it was an unexpected but rewarding transition into a new sector.

What embodies you and your style?

Clear, calm and concise. I have a detailed style whereby I like to analyse things in depth to give myself comfort in my views. As such, when I make a decision, I tend to hold fast to it with a high degree of conviction reflecting the homework I have done. This means my investment style is typically one of value, and I am known for having contrarian views and not being afraid to make calls and recommendations which go against consensus. I am not reactionary and my investment style typically reflects low turnover.

What drew you to specialise in real estate?

My Bachelor of Commerce degree was real estate related, majoring in Land Economics. I half anticipated going back to the family farm and felt this degree which gave me licences as a real estate agent, a valuer, a stock and station agent, and an auctioneer would have wide applicability in the country. As it turned out I got offered two different and appealing roles with major Sydney based real estate companies as soon as I finished my degree and never returned to the country.

What was your biggest takeaway from Goldman Sachs after 17 years?

Goldman Sachs is a large, highly successful company with, in many cases, a very detailed process driven style. This attention to diligence is core to getting decisions right, and structuring investment views. It is something which we carry into the way we have both set up and will manage our new Global Property fund.

Tell us about the time you spent in New York.

I moved my family to New York in 2005 when I was promoted to head of international equity research for Goldman Sachs JBWere and was broker dealer licencee of their New York office. We lived in the suburbs in Westchester County to the north of Manhattan and had an immensely enjoyable personal experience there, combined with the unique experience of working on Wall Street in the hub of the financial markets through a bull market and then into the GFC.

What have you enjoyed most about your time in equity research?

I have enjoyed being heavily involved with management teams of the companies I have been covering and experiencing the operations and real estate they invest in. Spending time with management, boards, understanding the business strategies, being involved in asset tours hosted by companies and intimately understanding the financials and the drivers interests me immensely. I find that this depth of understanding leads to the best ability to assess and form a view on the investment prospects of a company and its peers. It's very rewarding.

What's something that most people don't know about you?

My family enjoys skiing and my middle daughter in particular has had a lot of success as a ski racer for many years. In 2016 after returning from an overseas ski holiday and finding her invited as part of the Australian team to the international childrens event at the Whistler Cup in Canada, I decided I would call time on my career in investment banking and allow her to further explore her opportunity without the frenetic limitations of my previous role. I took her to Canada for 6 weeks of training and racing, and then spent the whole Australian 2016 winter season with her at the Australian snowfields and she has subsequently been selected on the Australian junior ski team. My youngest daughter is now also her own age group Alpine champion in Australia, so we may have another on our hands and I suspect we will be spending many more years chasing the snow and race events around the world.

What has been your most memorable investment (for either positive or negative reasons)?

Buying a beachfront block of land on the south coast on the spur of the moment when I was 25 and being told by my friends it was very expensive at $120,000. It doubled within two years and we ended up buying more land and developing houses which served as a great investment as well as a nice regular opportunity to escape from the city.

Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I grew up on a 5,000 acre sheep and wheat farm in central NSW. I went to school in small local town 35 kilometres away with a population of 2,000 people before spending my high school years in boarding school in Canberra. For the last 17 years I have brought up my family on 5 acres in Sydney, giving them a small mix of what I experienced but in an urban setting.

What’s the best piece of advice that you have received?

Prior to my move to the US, David Evans, founder of Evans and Partners once told me to take the opportunity to move overseas and broaden my experience before settling back to Australia and using that experience to my advantage. It stayed with me and helped cement my decision to take the US role.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I tend to have a long held rule of always trying to get home and have dinner with my family. If there is more work to do (as there often is), I can always do that later on in the evening after spending some quality time with the family. I never overlook the fact that I am working to provide for my family and our future. Work is therefore only a part of the life equation and it is very important to enjoy and experience what matters along the way.

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