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Wednesday, I will publish my 18th podcast, this one with NBA star, businessman, father and husband Pat Garrity (available on Apple, Spotify, etc). As I reflect on my conversations with my guests, one thread that runs through them all is the role of a) happenstance and b) response. Happenstance is random, response is often creative and intentional.

What initially attracted me to macro investing was the search to name the big economic forces. These forces, like technological innovation or deflation, could create and destroy companies or, even entire empires, like the British or the Soviet. However, I’ve come to see that the list of forces that overturned my guests’ lives was much broader than the ones I had studied as an investor.

For some, happenstance was being a child during a remarkably tumultuous historical period. My two-part interview with Gao Xiqing is a case in point. He describes being a teenager early in the Cultural Revolution and, at 13, riding China’s trains for thousands of miles with his younger brother as company! His ended up becoming a lawyer, in effect studying how the fair application of rules can reduce chaos. Similarly, Iskander Enikeev came of age at the same time his country, the Soviet Union, was imploding. He describes being “drunk” on freedom.

For others, chance was something unusual that happened in their home. Paul Cooke’s father took his own life. I asked if he was angry at his father. Paul answered in the negative. Instead, it made him curious about why someone would do such a thing in the first place. He also described how part of the allure of athletics was a sense it brought of “being in the moment.” We all crave flow. Paul’s life has been dedicated to finding it, that’s what makes the boats he coaches fly.

For others, happenstance was growing up without a lot of dough. No one choses to be born into a family with less resources. Eileen Murray and Roger Johnson each witnessed violence first hand. A difference was that Eileen grew up in a warm, supportive family and Roger was, in his own words, a latch-key kid. For Eileen, those early experiences seem to have translated into a street smartness, awareness of how money works and a sense that teamwork can achieve remarkable things. In Roger, these experiences manifested similarly, but also seemed to influence him prioritizing being the father for his own kids that he didn’t experience growing up.

Sometimes happenstance is physical. Both Pete Beeman and Pat are unusually tall. Peter found his physical size intimidated others and he learned to be low key in social events so as not to rattle people. However, his sculptures are huge, which he said was a way of, in essence, sharing size in a way that people found engaging rather than scary. Pat describes being unusually athletic but then, in high school, sprouting to such a height that it seemed like a relatively logical step to start spending a lot of time with a basketball. Neither of them worked for their height, it just happened, like the Cultural Revolution. The response, the effort required to become a sculptor or a basketball player, is of course intense.

Finally, for some guests happenstance was encountering a foreign culture. Pierre-Yves’ father insisted that he learn two foreign languages, English and Spanish. This then would lead to an international career that spanned fighting in the Gulf War, marrying an American, interviewing rebels in Mexico and running a bank in China. Andrew Weiss was drawn to a particular culture, Russia, and his deep expertise has defined his career.

When I finished Raising a Thief, I suspected most people probably had an equivalent story, just not the time or inclination to tell it. I am now convinced that is true. Remarkable things happen to all of us, well outside of our control. Then it is up to us to decide how to respond.

In that regard, Covid is more happenstance, this one hitting all of us at once. Perhaps the last time the world went through such a simultaneous convulsion was World War II. How will we chose to respond? There is the invention of the vaccine, a miracle. I also sense a burst of creativity and risk-taking afoot. Covid is a stark reminder of how short our time here actually is and how fleeting the moments when we can put our hand to the tiller, as opposed to merely enduring a gale, be that gale economic, emotional or a pandemic.

If you have feedback on these posts or the podcast, please pass it along. If you know of others who you think would make good guests on the podcast, please let me know.

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