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Weekly Thoughts: Stealing the Sourdough

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

Stealing the Sourdough

Our approach to sharing information

Back in our hedge funds days, it was important that the individual positions owned by our funds were held in the upmost secrecy.  We could be the closests of friends with someone, but if they worked for a different fund, we simply would never talk about the details of investment positions.  After all, sharing such information was tantamount to sharing the special sauce.

Fast forward to today, when our world is more operational than investment oriented.  Quite often we get inbound requests from people who are interested in what we are doing and want to learn more.  And, so long as we are not bound by a legal obligation, we are more than happy to be, in the parlance of a 1980’s investment banker, “open kimono” in such conversations.  The amount of information that we share about our investments could not be more dissimilar to the shrouded secrecy of our Wall Street days.

Our philosophy has shifted for two reasons.  The first is that we ourselves have benefited from those who have shared information with us and we feel an obligation to pay it forward.  The second is that we simply do not feel a competitive threat from such conversations. We benefit from them ourselves and feel confident that what we are doing is unique – and whomever we share information with will likely do something else equally unique.  The latter point was well articulated in a recent Seth Godin blog:

Twenty years ago, I met the most famous baker in the world. I was in Paris for a speech, and visited Poilane, a bakery much smaller than its reputation would lead you to believe. I was hoping to take home an unbaked kilo of dough, a sourdough, one that I could use to spawn hundreds of new loaves over the years. Proud of my sneakiness, I began by ordering $30 worth of loaves and tarts. And then, offhandedly said, “and an unbaked loaf please.” The clerks would have none of this. It was impossible, it wasn’t done, it wasn’t permitted. Bluffing, I said, “I’m confident that M. Poilane would be okay with it.” On cue, a door behind the counter opened and a handsome man, dressed in a smock, came out to introduce himself. Even before he spoke, I could see the sparkle in his smile, and I figured we would hit it off.

Instead of shooing me away, he invited me into his office. We spent two or three hours together that day, talking about his work. He showed me his huge library on the history of bread and we hung out in the basement, where it was over 100 degrees because of the wood-burning ovens. He sent me home with 2 kilos of unbaked dough. I kept that starter alive for years. Lionel understood that bread shared wasn’t bread lost. That no one was going to be able to steal his sourdough, even if they grew their own version at home. Over several years, he and I got together for long lunches in Paris when I was in town for a speech. I taught him about the internet, and he taught me about the magical intersection between generosity and idiosyncrasy. Ideas, bread and books are all the same–they’re better when they’re shared. The posture of generosity and connection replaces a mindset of scarcity, and Lionel modeled this philosophy every day.

At Chenmark, we believe that sharing information both internally – across our team of small businesses – and externally with interested parties- is what ultimately makes the magic happen.  It allows for new perspectives, new ideas, and new relationships.  And frankly, we probably could have benefited from more of that in our hedge fund days… because honestly, everybody was just net long Apple anyways.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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