Allan Gray: A life of long-term investing and impact

'The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit'

A fellowship from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation  opened a host of opportunities in entrepreneurship, academics and my career, writes Mxolisi Siwundla. 

Allan Gray, March 7 2007. File Picture: DIE BURGER PAPARAZZI/GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES/ANDREW BROWN.
Allan Gray, March 7 2007. File Picture: DIE BURGER PAPARAZZI/GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES/ANDREW BROWN.

Allan Gray is synonymous with the term “long-term impact”. This is as true in investing as it is in philanthropy. I stand as a proud beneficiary of both.

As far back as I can remember, my parents encouraged me to live a life of relative significance. Finishing at the top of my matric class at Hoerskool Pretoria-wes provided positive reinforcement to them about my future. 

However, the negatives were glaringly obvious. My lack of access to resources meant that there was a barrier to the opportunities I could achieve.

Enter Allan Gray.

Receiving a fellowship from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation for university studies not only allowed me to not ever waste a brain cell stressing about money, it also opened an abundance of opportunities in entrepreneurship, academics and my career. 

The Foundation’s purpose is “to cultivate high-impact responsible entrepreneurship by seeking out young people who have the potential to change the world with their energy, curiosity and new ways of seeing and understanding the problems we face, and how to solve them”. 

All Fellows will testify that one of the greatest gifts that the Foundation gives you is that it backs your ambitions and inspires your crazy. 

From day one, you are framed into thinking of life goals that impact more than just your immediate (and selfish) surroundings. While there is no obligation to work for the Allan Gray or Orbis investment firms after you graduate, you are only expected to “return the investment” by making a difference in society.

I have also been an investor in the Allan Gray Equity Fund since 2013. This is one of the flagship funds of the investment management company that shares its founder’s name and the fund now has more than R37bn in assets. 

It serves as a testament of what makes a great managed/active portfolio. It focuses on the long-term, does not pursue capital growth at all costs and sticks to its investment philosophy even when markets are behaving in irrational ways. 

Over the past seven years I have been invested, the fund has delivered on average 8.77% a year, although not every year has been as good as the average. In recent years, some returns for the year have been poor, but Allan Gray funds are designed to deliver over longer times, like the seven years I have been invested.

While most people are familiar with Warren Buffett and his oracle status, Allan Gray’s local and global investing success competes squarely with the world’s best investment firms. For example, since its founding in 1990, the Orbis equity portfolio outperformed Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in the 25 years to 2014. (source: Moneyweb, 28 May 2014.) 

In establishing the Foundation in 2005 at the age of 67, Allan Gray knew that his dream would bear its dividends long after he passed from this life. 

This is a lesson both in life and investing: “The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.” 

At the time of his passing, the Foundation was made up of future leaders of South Africa - dare I say world - in areas of justice, business, science, academia, the arts, philanthropy, public service, etc. 

The high impact lives that these young leaders will continue to live will transform their families, communities and South Africa as a whole. In all their stories, the generous investment of Allan Gray will be common thread. 

The management company he founded will also bear dividends over the long term for those who are prepared to remain invested.

I owe so much of how beautifully my personal and financial life has turned out to Mr Allan William Buchanan Gray.

Rest Easy, Uncle Greezy!

* Siwundla holds the Financial Manager Risk qualification and is the investor relations and product analyst at CoreShares

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