Our Story: Why We Believe & Care Deeply In H.E.R.O.
(1) Never Stop Exploring: We Want to Discover, Tell – and Invest In! - The Evergreen Stories – of Emerging Innovators Who Are Willing to Sacrifice to Make Significant Contributions
What is your own vision of the future?
Especially when there is no funding for the venture. No government grants. No high-level connections.
Yet, how did the Wright brothers succeed where a better-equipped, better-funded, and better-educated team led by the highly-regarded Samuel Pierpont Langley, whose friends included some of the most powerful men in government and business such as Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell, could not?
Both the Wright brothers and Langley were highly motivated. Both had a strong work ethic. Both had keen scientific minds. They were pursuing exactly the same goal, but only the Wright brothers started with Why. They knew Why it was important to build the flying machine. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it could change the world. They imagined the benefits to everyone else if they were successful. The Wright brothers were true scientists, deeply and genuinely concerned about the physical problem they were trying to solve – the problem of balance and flight. Langley, on the other hand, was consumed with acquiring the level of prestige of his associates like Alexander Graham Bell, fame that he knew would come only with a major scientific breakthrough. Langley did not have the Wrights’ passion for flight, but rather was looking for achievement. One was motivated by the prospect of fame and wealth, the other by a belief. The Wright brothers excited the human spirit of those around them.
The first and primary motive to Why H.E.R.O. is conceived and born is because we want to discover, to tell – and to invest in - the stories of the overlooked and underappreciated emerging innovators like the Wright brothers - in Asia. We believe that the future and innovation – and multi-bagger investment returns - happens at the edges by the misfits, the outcasts, the underdogs who forged an original – but extraordinarily difficult – path. Those who make the difficult choice to champion for and stay true to ideas and values larger than themselves, a greater purpose and cause that go against the grain and go the extra mile and are willing to sacrifice to make significant contributions, inspiring those around them.
H.E.R.O. Innovators have something in common – they witnessed first-hand the problems that beset the masses and wanted to build a business to provide useful products and services. They want to build and scale their businesses so that they can give more. Only when we have the desire to give, then can we want to persevere in building something meaningful. This urge to build in order to give is their True North to scale the business and they work obsessively to realize this vision.
We want our investors to be proud of having ownership in inspiring Asian H.E.R.O. Innovators in their pocket who are Honorable and High-Integrity with a Higher Purpose in solving High-Value Problem for their targeted customers and society, as captured by the essence of the first letter H of the H.E.R.O. And that they are discovered at an earlier or tipping point stage as a small- and mid-cap company. And that our H.E.R.O. fund management company is an Organization that stands for the embracement of the eternally misunderstood human spirit unleashing her technological and innovative capacities without any reserve, realizing her societal mission and working to her heart's content.
(2) Stop Fearing: Defang The Risky Bite of the “Next Big Thing” Trap, Especially With Prevalent Asian-Style Accounting Fraud & Misgovernance Risks
Caring is an exacting, serious and demanding business, especially when it comes to being entrusted to invest in another person’s financial assets, which represent much more than money – they are a tangible product of one’s life’s work and a repository of aspirations for the future.
As a fund manager and educator in the Asian capital jungles, I have been reading, listening to and analyzing stories of entrepreneurs for over 15 years, including witnessing many investors and friends who had invested their hard-earned savings in a number of these supposed value stocks which are thematic stocks that are part of the popular mantra "Ride the Asian Growth Story!", only to find themselves subject to emotional upheavals when these stocks turned out to be inherently sick and prey to economic vicissitudes. They may seem to grow faster initially but the sustainable harvest of their returns is far too uncertain to be the focus of a wise program in investment.
Worse still, some turned out to be involved in accounting frauds, in which their financial numbers were “propped up” artificially to lure in more funds from investors, and the previous assessed asset value had already been “tunneled out” or expropriated in money-go-round tunneling opportunities via unusual related-party transactions. The four categories of commonly-used tunneling methods used by actual insiders, manipulators and syndicates to expropriate corporate assets include: (1) Money-go-round intercorporate loans, guarantees, other receivables and investments, (2) Capex irregularities, (3) Deals potion, (4) Consolidation craftiness e.g. the improper pushing of operating expenses and debt liabilities into unconsolidated entities in which the listco has effective economic control and power to artificially inflate its own profit and balance sheet asset value. This issue is compounded as western-based fraud detection tools and techniques have not been adapted to the Asian context to avoid these traps. It is disheartening to witness many fraud perpetrators go away scot-free and live a life of super luxury on these unsuspecting minority investors’ hard-earned money.
Thus, accounting information can be used to inform – or to deceive. I am fortunate to have taught accounting at the SMU, including launching the inaugural 15-weeks course Accounting Fraud in Asia. I am grateful to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about the potential of implementing the world’s first fact-based fraud detection system for Singapore. I incorporated and implemented this fact-based forward-looking fraud detection system that combines accounting data, especially footnotes, with a wide array of contextual information - including unusual related-party transactions; money-go-round off balance-sheet activities; governance, group structure, consolidation accounting and ownership analysis; textual and linguistic analysis; analysis of event-based “catalysts” (information-based manipulation) and sensitive market announcements (action-based manipulation in prices and volume) - to provide fresh insights in equity valuation to inform our decision making in investments at the H.E.R.O. Innovators Tech Fund.
An overarching purpose of H.E.R.O. is to help our investors defang the risky bite of the “Next Big Thing” trap of investing in fads, me-too imitators, cash-burning tech companies, or even in seemingly cutting-edge technologies without the ability to monetize and generate recurring revenue with a sustainable and scalable business model, helping our investors to know how to distinguish between the true innovators and the swarming imitators.
(3) Never Stop Learning - Value Investing 3.0, A Paradigm Shift In Investing In An Exponential World - From "Stalwarts" to "H.E.R.O. Innovators"
“Every fund manager, even the good ones, will go through ups and downs. And the test is whether he or she can be trusted to keep learning to adapt and win with the right values in managing money.”
This is what a wise business owner of a highly successful European asset management group with over 3 billion euros in asset under management – and one of our H.E.R.O. clients – shared with us when he entrusted his capital with H.E.R.O. Reflecting on my decade-plus of learning in the investments industry, I am deeply grateful to clients, friends and partners who have trusted me to do the right thing in winning for them.
Charlie Munger, the influential partner to Warren Buffett, commented this about Buffett: “Warren Buffett has become one hell of a lot better investor since the day I met him, and so have I. If we had been frozen at any given stage, with the knowledge we had, the record would have been much worse than it is. So the game is to keep learning, and I don't think people are going to keep learning who don't like the learning process. If you keep learning all the time, you have a wonderful advantage.” Value Investing 1.0 as epitomized by Benjamin Graham’s discounted net-net tangible asset value approach was disrupted by Value Investing 2.0 led by Charlie Munger. Charlie Munger's contribution was to nudge Warren Buffett towards 'the direction of not just paying for bargains', as was taught to Buffett by Benjamin Graham. As Buffett elucidated: “It took a powerful force to move me on from Graham's limiting view. It was the power of Charlie's mind. Boy, if I had listened only to Ben, would I ever be a lot poorer; I became very interested in buying a wonderful business at a moderate price.”
Consider this quote from Barron’s (17 March 2018): “We don’t own Amazon.com because we can’t justify its valuation on cash flow, earnings, book value, sales revenue, you name it,” says Bill Nasgovitz, manager of the $786 million Heartland Value fund. “It just doesn’t fit.” On the other side of the aisle is mid-cap growth fund manager Michael Lippert, who has a 7% weighting in Amazon (AMZN) in his $308 million Baron Opportunity fund. Value investing is a lost cause in today’s high-tech, winner-take-all economy, according to Lippert. “The world we live in today—it’s haves and have-nots, and there are way more have-nots,” he says. “There are so many industries being disrupted by the digitization of the world; it’s hard to make cyclical bets on have-not value stocks.”
How should one invest in an exponential world? It appears tough to be in either camps as described above.
Having delivered outperformance for clients over my investments career from investing in SMID-cap "stalwarts" which demonstrate resilient 10-25% CAGR profit growth, including a double-digit fund return in 2016 when markets were negative, I noticed there is a distinctive tidal shift in valuation premium towards mega-cap tech stocks from 4Q2016 onwards, a trend which has quietly spilled over to selected SMID-cap tech-focused innovators.
If Buffett was nudged by Munger to recognize a paradigm shift to Value Investing 2.0, I was nudged by various examples and investment errors to recognize that we are now in Value Investing 3.0, the age of the Exponential Organization in which we are still early in the mega trend of SMID-cap tech-focused innovators.
One of the investment errors committed was in e-Guardian (TSE: 6050). We were one of the earliest foreign institutional investors to have identified e-Guardian when the investment was made at the share price of JPY 563 in April 2016. Fund was even a Top 20 shareholder (based on S&P CIQ shareholder data) despite our modest position size (~1-2% of NAV). It has a unique business model with the ability to monetize its cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology via a recurring subscription-based revenue model to sticky customers in multiple industries while core business remains healthy in generating strong operating cashflow in a capex-light business model.
When e-Guardian’s share price more than doubled in the next 6 months since our investment and valuations became less cheap than when we first invested, the concern was that valuations had ran ahead of its strong and growing fundamentals. We took profit to reinvest the proceeds in SMID-cap “stalwarts” with resilient CAGR profit growth of 10-15% and very attractive valuations, but not growing exponentially or in a non-linear way like e-Guardian, and also with the view to reinvest into e-Guardian should its share price correct. But e-Guardian’s share price never corrected since and even went on to triple. And over the same period, while the SMID-cap “stalwarts” with very attractive valuations deliver decent results, their share prices rose modestly on average.
Thus, the idea of H.E.R.O. was born to capture structural investment opportunities in this paradigm shift to Value Investing 3.0 in an exponential world over the next decade and beyond, while avoiding the crowd-chasing herd in mega-cap tech stocks.
(4) Never Stop Contributing & Sapere Vedere
When asked for his secret, Leonardo da Vinci would characteristically respond with the phrase he conceived and adopted as his personal motto: Sapere vedere. The phrase combines the Latin “sapere”, which means knowing how, and “vedere”, which means to see. Sapere vedere is knowing how to see. People with sapere vedere look forward as well as inward; they are capable of believing and seeing what others don’t. Knowing how to see, is crucial to living a life of significance.
Sapere vedere is three dimensional, a combination of hindsight, foresight and insight. Hindsight is seeing back. Hind is behind. It’s where we’ve been. Foresight is seeing ahead. Fore is before. It’s what is in front of us. Insight is seeing from within. It’s what we see with the eyes of our mind and feel with the pulse of our heart. As Myles Munroe writes in his book The Principles and Power of Vision, “Sight is a function of the eyes, vision is a function of the heart… Vision sets you free from the limitations of what the eyes can see and allows you to enter into the liberty of what the heart can feel. Never let your eyes determine what your heart believes.” Wisdom is knowing what we saw. Vision is knowing what we see. And sapere vedere is knowing how to see. By focusing on what’s within our heart and mind, and looking ahead, vision pulls us forward. With vision, people look ahead with confidence. Confidence means to go with faith. Clear vision allows us to proceed with faith in ourselves.
And Purpose is an all-important ingredient for sapere vedere. Once we know our purpose, we become pathfinders. Knowing what we want to do dictates where we go and where we put our focus. Our path is the way we travel. Our vision is where we travel. Our purpose is why we travel. Da Vinci said, “May your work be in keeping with your purpose.” Think of Gandhi who saw a free India. It didn’t matter that no one else did. He did.
Those who pursue their vision have had to endure something difficult, something trying. As we walk our path and see to fulfil our purpose, we will inevitably have disappointments that knock us down. However difficult, being able to see what is ahead unleashes the ability to persevere and prevail.
Stephen Covey has a personal motto that serves to keep his vision clear. That motto: Live life in crescendo. “To live life in crescendo is to constantly look forward. It means your greatest work, and contribution, is always ahead of you. The philosophy places the emphasis on contribution. While achievement has a beginning and an end, contribution is ongoing and enduring. If you focus on contribution and not on achievement, you will achieve more than your wildest dreams.
To our clients, friends and partners, we are thankful and grateful for your sapere vedere, trust and support in us as we invest in H.E.R.O. Innovators in crescendo together.
CG & KB
Dr. Alain Würgler
Chief Executive at PMW Asset Management and MD at Bellatrix Asset Management
Dr. Alain Würgler is managing director and investment advisor at Bellatrix and responsible internal auditor. He supervises fund management and is in charge of investment strategies and company development.
Alain acquired his knowledge in different international banks in Europe and Asia. He managed the efforts to develop PMW Asset Management’s business in Zurich. At McKinsey & Co., he assisted the CEOs and management teams of companies across the world in releasing significant market value in the banking and IT sectors. He holds a doctorate and a master’s degree in computer science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and has a degree in economics from the University of Zurich.
Alain joined the family business, PMW Asset Management, in 2004 in Zurich and was appointed as CEO in 2006. He supervises all the investment strategies and he is responsible for client relation management and company development, as well as overseen company’s infrastructure. His Investment specialist know-how comprises European and Asian Equities, forex and commodities trading. In 2012, he took over the management of the fund management company in Luxembourg, Bellatrix Asset Management, as president of the board of directors.
LOO Cheng Guan ("CG")
Chairman & Co-Founder of HERO Investment Management
Mr LOO Cheng Guan (“CG”) is the Chairman, Director & Co-Founder of HERO Investment Management Pte Ltd. He is overall responsible for the Fund’s business development.
CG is also the Founder and Managing Director of Vermilion Gate Pte Ltd. Mr. Loo has over 20 years built up a wealth of experience in M&A advisory, investment banking and private equity, as well as a nexus of regional connections that cuts across various industries in SEA and China.
Prior to founding Vermilion Gate, CG was ED/Group President of an SGX-listed investment company. Before that, he had held CEO positions at Tembusu Partners, F&H Fund Management and Blue Ocean Capital Partners as well as senior executive positions at MUFG, Nomura Securities, Advent International and Arthur D. Little.
In addition to his role in Vermilion Gate, CG chairs Rockstead Capital's GIP Fund II and Precursor Group, an accounting firm. He is also an independent director of Valuetronics Holdings Ltd., an SGX-listed company, and a board member of Fortrec Chemicals & Petroleum Pte Ltd and several private companies in Singapore.
KEE Koon Boon ("KB")
Director & Co-Founder of HERO Investment Management
KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to H.E.R.O., KB was the Portfolio Manager/Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investment.
KB was also the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia, a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia. Subscribers to the Moat Report Asia from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, hidden billionaires and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing.
KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Detecting Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at the SMU. KB remains grateful to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community.
KB also served investors and the public in contributing his thought leadership on the topics of value investing, business model innovation and accounting fraud in local and international media, such as TEDxWallStreet, Investopia, BeyondProxy, Greatinvestors.tv, Jakarta Post, The Straits Times, TODAY, The Business Times, and in top banking, finance and investment conferences in Sydney, Cape Town, HK and Beijing, Italy, as well as in the Value Investing Seminar, Value Investing Summit, Emerging Value Summit, Wide Moat Investing Summit and Asian Investing Summit.
Scouring Accounting Footnotes to Prevent Tunnelling
The Business Times, 19th August 2015
IMAGINE that the S-chip (Singapore·listed China stocks) fraud with its “missing cash phenomenon” and the penny stock scandal never happened – because there was a way to prevent them.
Reforming Corporate Governance
The Business Times, 25 November 2010
CORPORATE governance, as elucidated by leading finance researchers Andrei Schleifer and Robert Vishny, “deals with the ways in which suppliers of finance to corporations assure themselves of getting a return on their investment. How do they make sure that managers do not steal the capital they supply or invest in bad projects?”
Why ‘Democracy’ and ‘Drifter’ Firms Can Have Abnormal Returns: The Joint Importance of Corporate Governance and Accounting Quality in Separating Winners from Losers
– Published in the Special Issue of Istanbul Stock Exchange 25th Year Anniversary Best Paper Competition of the Boğaziçi Journal, Review of Social, Economic and Administrative Studies, Vol. 25(1): 3-55.
– Presented in the 23rd Australasian Finance and Banking Conference in Sydney, 15-17 Dec 2010
The secret to business resilience: Be like the bamboo, not the oak
TODAY, 8th April 2013
Creating ‘Bamboo Innovators’ in Singapore
The Straits Times, 1st April 2013
“Can my kid see how you print the newspaper?”
These were questions asked by Israeli inventor and entrepreneur Gil Shwed’s mother when she took him on educational “adventure trips” when he was young, exposing him to a diary farm, a printing house, and his father’s office in 1972, where at age five he saw a computer for the first time.
Education 2.0 In Indonesia: Inspiring Bamboo Innovators
Jakarta Post, 11th May 2013
Lion Infrastructure is the way to go
The Business Times, 30th December 2010
管理狮城的狮子企业家 The Power of Vision
Lianhe Zaobao, 9th August 2010
Business Times, 15 May 2010
What do Berkshire Hathaway – the US$180 billion insurance, industrial and consumer conglomerate that billionaire Warren Buffett skillfully crafted – and Singapore have in common?