Founder’s philosophy steers strategy

Eighty years on, the vision of founder William McCormick Blair still guides the funds management business that bears his name, writes Nicholas O'Donoghue.

Sound corporate financial advice, unbiased investment recommendations, and a sense of civic responsibility form the backbone of William Blair's strategy, following the philosophy established by the firm's founder 80 years ago.

The international fund manager has held firm to the guiding principles of founder, William McCormick Blair, with its role in advising advisers becoming increasingly important, head of Australian and New Zealand retail funds distribution, Alex Francois, believes.

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"In a highly volatile world, investors are looking for better risk/return investment capabilities, the ability to generate good returns in rising markets, and just as importantly, protect on the downside when markets are going down," he said.

"Investors are also looking for the better access to wider diversification that comes from investing overseas, away from the home country bias that comes with purely investing in Australia.

"Total returns investing is becoming more important for retirees who are facing a longer period of time in retirement.

"This means protecting capital and protecting investments from inflation as we enter a low growth environment.

"Fund managers become part of the communication chain by providing advisers with better products, investment knowledge of market moves, as well as thought leadership on changing investment landscape," he said.

"Advisers need to educate investors about the need for diversification.

"This means focusing on downside risk protection as much as seeking highest returns.

"Advisers also need to manage client expectations in terms of lower returns and possible volatility of those returns."

As well as adhering to the philosophy of William McCormick Blair “of strong bottom up equities investing”, Francois said the employee-owned firm “is also marketing” its top-down macro allocation strategy, focused on equities, fixed income, and alternative investments.

Francois said this strategy was "designed to take advantage of global opportunities and risk… [and] seeks to capitalise on fundamental value/price dislocations in global markets and currencies through dynamic risk capital allocation".

"William Blair is focused on growing our local presence with asset consultants, researchers, institutions, and platforms," he said.

"Our funds management focus continues to be on emerging markets and global equities and our dynamic allocation strategies.

"This will continue to be the focus for the business in Australia, as it has been globally, where we continue to be entrusted with managing assets for many of the top sovereign wealth funds, pensions funds, and institutions."

William Blair profile

Year manager was founded: 1935
Number of employees: 1,300+
Key personnel:
President: John Ettelson
Head of investments: Michelle Seitz
Retail funds head of ANZ institutional distribution: Alex Francois
Global Leaders Fund (GL) co-portfolio managers: Ken McAtamney and Andy Flynn (from 1 January 2016)    
Emerging Markets Leaders (EML) co-portfolio managers: Todd McClone and Jeff Urbina    
Dynamic Diversified Allocation Fund (DDA) co-portfolio managers: Brian Singer and Thomas Clarke
Investment styles used: Bottom up for equities and top down for DDA.
Asset classes covered: Global and emerging markets equities, total returns and liquid alternatives.
Leading funds:
GL:
Fees/MER: 1% per annum
Last 12 months performance of fund (as 31 August 2015): 27.2% AUD
EML:
Fees/MER: 1.1% per annum
Last 12 months performance of fund (as 31 August 2015): 7.05% AUD
DDA:
Fees/MER: 0.95% per annum
Last 12 months performance of fund (as 31 August 2015): 5.8% AUD
Minimum investment amount: $500,000 or via IDPS
Research house ratings for fund: Lonsec, SQM
Major platform through which fund is available: AUSMAQ
Total FUM: $89 billion at 30 June 2015




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