Sarah Whitley studied experimental psychology at Oxford University, graduating in 1980. That year she joined Baillie Gifford, moving to the Japanese Equities team in 1982, and becoming a co-manager of the Baillie Gifford Japanese Smaller Companies fund between 1983 and 2001. She was promoted to partner in 1986. In 1991, she became lead manager of Baillie's Japan Trust. Ten years ago she also became co-manager of the Japanese fund (along with Matthew Brett).
What is her strategy?
Whitley considers herself to be a flexible fund manager. However, she notes that most of her successes have been from buying secular growth stocks, the type of companies that she thinks will enjoy strong growth whatever the economic conditions.
Her process is to look at the quality of the business (including its management), growth prospects, and the industry it operates in. Only after she and her team have convinced themselves that a company should do well in the future, does she start considering valuation. Her fund has also borrowed money to boost returns.
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Did it work?
Very much so. Since March 1991, the Baillie Gifford Japan Trust has returned a total of 563.92%, compared with 38.7% for the Topix (in sterling terms). This worksout to an annual return of 7.4%, compared with 2.6% for the index.
Over the past ten years, Baillie's Japanese Fund has returned 182.85%, nearly 4% better than the Topix during this period. One of her most successful investments has been Fuji Heavy Industries, which she bought in 2012 after they ditched minivans to focus on sports cars. This has returned 598% since June 2012 (more than 40% a year).
The lessons for investors
Until recently, Japan's market hasn't performed especially well. Yet Whitley's successful record shows that by focusing on the quality of the companies you invest in, you can still profit, even when the economy is struggling. When valuations do start to rise, companies that are already enjoying strong growth will see the extra benefit. Equally, you shouldn't entirely ignore valuation you don't have to buy at dirt cheap levels, but don't overpay either.
Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.
He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.
Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.
As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.
Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri
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