A unique investment perspective
Speaking in March at the UBS Wealth Insights conference in Singapore, renowned aeronaut, scientist, adventurer, psychiatrist and pioneer Dr. Bertrand Piccard shared his profound and relevant experiences and principles, which serve as an inspiration for both life and strategic wealth management.
"We can all be adventurers in our lives - and businesses."
Known as Le Savanturier (literally scientist-adventurer), and a man increasingly recognised as an inspirational speaker the world over, Dr. Piccard is celebrated for his approach to seemingly insurmountable challenges. His experiences after completing the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight – 20 days and 45,755km in a tiny cockpit - provide insightful parallels with the world of investing, in business or in lifein general.
"I wish you all great success in the winds of life."
"Life is a big balloon flight, we are taken by the winds"
Dr. Piccard identifies ballooning as a perfect metaphor for life’s challenges, particularly for investors who are content to stay in their comfort zones. He talks of people’s dreams, hopes and expectations, and how we can expend all our energy fighting against the wind if it takes us the wrong way. Rather than struggling against the impossible, in order to change direction, he said, we must "change altitude."
The atmosphere consists of layer upon layer of winds, all moving at different speeds in various directions. To change height in a balloon, one must drop ballast. Physically, this may take the form of sand, fuel, even food rations; anything to make the balloon lighter. According to Dr. Piccard, the ballast that weighs down investors includes certititudes, dogmas, habits and common assumptions. He adds, "Only when these are thrown overboard do we start to rise."
"Luck is when preparation meets opportunities"
For his record-breaking flight, Dr. Piccard adopted a radical strategy. Having failed before, like so many of his peers, he realised that the pursuit of the most stable balloon was the problem: what he needed was the most unstable kind, one with the flexibility to change altitude at will rather than follow a safe, steady and predictable course that the limited resources aboard cannot sustain. This may resonate with Asian investors who typically look to their home markets for investment opportunities, the ones they know inside-out, eschewing potential opportunities in untapped markets on other continents.
However, adopting such a bold strategy for Piccard it was not about throwing caution to the wind. He drew another parallel with the trusting relationship between a client and a wealth manager. Having climbed into brisker winds, travelling at 120km/h, Dr. Piccard called his weatherman to ask why he had not seized the opportunity to double their speed. The weatherman calmly told him to drop altitude and slow down immediately – or be whisked completely off-course to the North Pole. The importance of sound advice, as well as long-term planning, cannot be overstated.
Just as Dr. Piccard relied on a strong crew on the ground, investors too can rely on their wealth manager as a dependable partner, armed with the data and experience required to make insightful forecasts and predictions.
"New strategies, new solutions."
Dr. Piccard closed his impassioned speech by describing the liberating feeling when we turn off the autopilot in our heads and start producing strategies that have never been explored before.
"The question I leave you with," he asked, "is which ballast would you like to throw overboard?"
Having taken off on his epic balloon journey with 3.7 tons of fuel, yet landing with scarcely 40 kgs remaining, Dr. Piccard pledged that his next epic flight would not require a single drop of fossil-sourced energy. The Solar Impulse project was born and following test flights in Europe and the US, he will take to the skies in 2015 to circumnavigate the world again, this time powered only by the sun.
Asked why he is undertaking yet another perilous mission, he beams; "We believe that if an airplane can fly around the world with no fuel, nobody can say that it’s impossible to do the same for cars, for heating systems, for air-conditioning, for computers…." Here, once again, he challenges the unchallenged, a valuable lesson for explorers, investors and businessmen alike.
Dr. Piccard’s parting words were typically poignant: "I wish you all great success in the winds of life." The vision that he shared truly resonated with a rapt UBS audience. In his bid to make history again – this time with a cause so dear to his heart – we wish him every success too.
Watch the video about Dr. Piccard
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