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Individuals Matter

History can teach us something about investing

The war in Ukraine has revealed a truth about history largely ignored for a couple of generations—individuals matter and individuals make history. Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky prove the point.

Since Karl Marx developed the idea that history could be approached scientifically, the ancient emphasis on individual actors has been replaced by the study of large, impersonal, economic and social forces. Frederick Jackson Turner wrote The Significance of the Frontier in American History in 1893 and the concept of “Western Imperialism,” has been used to explain nearly everything that’s happened since 1492.

When America offered to evacuate President Zelensky, he responded, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” It is clear to us that Ukraine would have surrendered without this individual and his courage. 

What does this have to do with investing? Many investors are tempted to identify trends or technologies that might produce businesses that could benefit from whatever trend has been discovered. Much like the attempt to explain history through large impersonal forces, this manner of investing emphasizes a “big idea” and often results in speculating on companies that have yet to prove themselves financially. 

At Dock Street we start our search by looking for individual businesses with extraordinary financial strength, which we believe is the best evidence that a business is benefitting from a particular trend and has graduated from “Speculation” to “Investment”. Often, once we scratch the surface, we discover remarkable individuals whose leadership and vision have shaped the businesses they run, and created or altered the trends that other investors are trying to find.

History, and the life of a business, result from individual action, talent, and conviction. We will continue to search for investments from the bottom up and avoid top down thinking.

Best regards,

Daniel A. Ogden


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