A Day in the Life – David Clark

UK Analyst David Clark tells us about a day in his life…

How do you start your working day?

Reluctantly, usually. I’ve never been much of a morning person yet, rather foolishly, every job I’ve ever had required me to get out of bed at stupid o’clock. Actually, I don’t mind so much just as long as no-one tries to speak to me for the first hour or so.

Living in Glasgow and working in Edinburgh means up at 5:45am and out the door by 6:10. Thanks to the modern miracle that is ScotRail (!) I am at my desk by about 7:40 having scanned my emails and the pertinent news of the day, as well as usually managing to cram in a few chapters of whatever novel I’m working my way through at the time. (The last book in a series about the Roman Emperor Vespasian, since you ask – very exciting!)

From then on, every day takes its own turn.

What does a typical day at Saracen look like for you?

I may be meeting with a company that we are thinking of investing in or have a current interest in or I may be meeting clients. There may be issues to discuss with my colleagues, observations to be made, or portfolios to be reviewed. At any given time, I generally have a list of companies that I am going to either update our proprietary financial model or begin an entirely new model. This is a thorough, deep dive on the company and we prepare forecasts looking out 5 years in an effort to identify underlying valuation anomalies. We are well aware that these forecasts will not be pinpoint accurate, but they are amazingly instructive to construct. In addition, we always factor in our ‘worst case’ scenario into our assessment which helps provide a suitable margin for error.

These models are variously time consuming, engaging, frustrating and illuminating. Faffing about with amortisation charges is no way for a grown man to spend his time. Still, it has to be done – and it is always worth it.

Tell us about your career so far.

I completed a degree in Accountancy at Glasgow University in 1986 and for a brief (6 months), unhappy time was actually an accountant. I still shudder when I think of it. However, in 1987 I joined a company called Scottish Mutual Assurance Society in Glasgow in their investment department as an analyst. That was when my real education began. It was hectic, chaotic and intense. These guys worked hard and played hard and I pretty much loved every minute of it and learned a great deal. In 1994 I moved onto what was then called Britannia Asset Management and eventually became Ignis Asset Management having gone through a variety of name changes. I stayed there for 20 years managing all kinds of funds, but the last 10 years were spent managing all of the UK Smaller Company monies. Excellent experience and very good fun.

When Ignis was taken over by Standard Life Investments I worked as a Non-Executive Director for a couple of small companies for a couple of years until the world of fund management beckoned me again. I missed it and was very fortunate to find the nice people at Saracen who were looking for someone to help out. So far, so good …

What was the biggest learning curve in your career?

I think I’m still on it. It’s always a joy and privilege talking to people who are smarter than me and the older I get the more I realise I don’t know. As the old saying goes, “I’m not young enough to know everything.” Investment management is as much art as it is science and a careful blend of the two, in my experience, tends to produce the best results.

What advice would you give someone starting out as a fund manager today?

Listen. Learn humility and remember your mistakes – you’ll make plenty but hopefully not the same ones twice.

What is the company culture at Saracen Fund Managers?

Very relaxed. We are a small team, all of whom have at least 20 years’ experience of investment analysis and fund management and have therefore been round the block a bit. There are no egos (thank God!) and there is a very open culture of constructive challenge to one’s views. Not only is it quite fun defending one’s position (and querying other people’s positions) but it really does test the resolve of that opinion and exposing it to intellectual scrutiny is always a helpful exercise. Of course, it’s always nice having one’s mistakes pointed out too!

Any favourite haunts for lunch?           

Not really – I don’t know Edinburgh well enough yet, so I’m becoming more of an expert on the various sandwich shops locally.

How do you relax in the evening?

Depends on the evening. I’m as much a fan of box sets as the next man and am currently working my way through ‘Good Omens’ on Amazon. I read the book years ago and loved its silliness. The series is every bit as barking mad. Good fun.

I’m also occasionally to be found trawling at rock concerts in Glasgow. As with many people of my vintage my tastes are massively influenced by the 1970s and 80s. As such I can often be found marvelling at the digital dexterity of Michael Schenker or the wonderful guitar harmonies of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Just so as you don’t think I am a complete dinosaur – I went to see The Sheepdogs recently. Bet you haven’t heard of them.