Peter Shriver, CEO of Barrett Asset Management

The second day of the conference I sat down with Peter Shriver and Owen Gilmore. Shriver is the CEO of Barrett Asset Management, a mid and high-cap investment firm based in NYC with an international client base. He holds two Masters' degrees from NYU, one in Business and one in Philosophy. I spoke with him about the challenges and excitements of his 27 year career and the future of wealth management. Gilmore is a Research Associate and Portfolio Manager and works closely with Shriver.

BT (William Keiser): I read about your background in philosophy and then you mentioned it in the Executive Seminar you conducted. How has that degree impacted your career and the work you do now?

Peter Shriver: Philosophy just teaches you to think, and in our industry, we have to know everything about everything. Being trained as a philosopher, you question assumptions and constantly look at things and analyze them, so it’s great training for investment. I didn’t go into Philosophy with the idea that I would end up in business. I was working in book publishing and I saw that the industry was constricting, and then got interested in business. I first worked at a place uptown called the American Management Association which does management training and then was lucky - I applied to NYU and they took me. And so I got a job working for a value manager during my first year and it worked out. I was lucky because a lot of people I interviewed with looked at me as a philosophy major who worked in book publishing and they were like, are you kidding me?

How did you initially break through the barriers of employers' expectations?

I was lucky, because there is a gentleman whose name is Peter B. Cannell, very thoughtful, an intellectual. He interviewed me and said, you studied philosophy? That’s a good thing. We analyze companies, we tear them apart, we want creative thinking.

It was hard, but at the end of the day, you realize in life all you need is that one break. When I was looking to get into Barrett, I sent out 250 resumes. This is before the internet. I got two interviews and one job offer, and the job offer was at Barrett. And I took it and I’ve been there for 27 years. You always think you need everything and all you need is really one thing.

What is the philosophy of your business, if you will?

The mantra in our firm has always been: we do what’s right for our client. We align all interests with the client. And most people say that and it’s not really the truth, but in our organization it’s the truth, because a third of our clients are friends or family. So we’re always doing what we consider the honorable thing.

You mentioned that one of the most fun parts of what you do is that you get to be very alert and stay up to date constantly. What are the ways you stay up to date?

What we do as a firm is that every morning at 9:15 all researchers get together and talk about any issues with any of the companies [in which we invest]. And then every Wednesday we sit down and have a larger research meeting where we talk about what earnings are coming up, what events are coming up with the companies. We also have a news flow at our desks. We’re trying to not get every bit of minutia, because then we'd go crazy. We’re trying to just look at the big stuff, what’s going on with companies, what’s going on with earnings.

The other thing you have to do in this business is to make decisions based on the knowledge that you have. You have to know enough, and then you have to make the leap of faith that your judgement is going to work out to be right, and it doesn’t always, but most of the time for us it has.

One of the things you mentioned in the seminar was your foresight in investing in Mobileye, the Israeli intel company that cornered the market on sensor technology in self-driving cars.

When you get it right, like Owen got it right with Mobile-eye, it is really exciting. We came in Monday morning, and the company was bought out. And then we made 35%.

This year we’ve had three of our companies bought out from underneath us. We own some Time Warner which has gotten taken out by AT&T and we own Mead Johnson, which is a nutritional company for kids, which also got bought out.

And it can be a really good thing when they are bought out?

Oh it is, because you make money right away. But you can’t go into it thinking this, because we are not experts at who is going to buy what. It’s more like when we bought PayPal [stock] and thought, oh, this thing is really interesting and ought to be bought by Google, ought to be bought by Apple, ought to be bought by Chase Bank. That didn’t happen; it worked on its own. But any one of them could have stepped up.