In Conversation With Veteran Investment Guru, Mark Denning

Mark E. Denning has spent 37 years at the Capital Group, managing more than $300bn of assets for investors. The portfolio manager joined in 1982, after completing an MBA from Columbia University, NY. He was also awarded a BSC in Econ Industry and Trade from the London School of Economics, where he was later honored by being admitted to the Court of Governors as a member of its Development Committee. 

During his illustrious career at the Capital Group, Mark was tasked with setting up the firm’s Singapore office during the early 90s – an era that defined the dawn of global investing. He then became Head of European Research, during which he was also fund manager for the Emerging Market Growth Fund. This was a first-of-its-kind fund, set up in response to the World Bank’s request for a vehicle for institutions to invest in developing nations. 

The 2000s ushered in a new phase for the Capital Group when they began offering investment management services for individuals in Canada and Europe. During this period, Mark served as a Director for the Group and as a member of the Capital Group Finance Committee. He was also assigned as the principal investment officer for two high-ranking funds – the Capital World Growth and Income Fund, and the Europacific Growth Fund. Both funds achieved impressive investment results over more than three decades, with a return of 14.83% pa and 14.3% pa each. 

Alongside his stellar career as a portfolio manager at the Capital Group, Mark has also held positions as a Director at gemstone company Tian Shan Jade, and as the Chairman of Vamiz Island, Mozambique. 

How did you get interested in your industry?

I worked for the Capital Group from 1982 to 2019, so it’s like 37 years. I think my father messed around in the stock market when I was a kid in Malaysia. I grew up in Malaysia and I was always interested in all that stuff. I did a course, funnily enough, in international investing when I was at business school. And that was very, very interesting. It was the world opening in front of your eyes. Literally from ‘82 to 2019, that’s the beginning of global investing. 

We also launched probably the first-ever emerging markets fund in 1985. That was at the behest of the IFC, a part of the World Bank. The fund was very, very successful and had great results. I was involved with it from the word go until 1998 when we restructured and I changed.

What stuck out to you or interested you about this period?

Hardly any of these markets were completely open to foreign investment. Korea and Taiwan, we take it for granted today. There was no such thing as China. There were no investment opportunities in China at all. And certainly prior to 1989, 1990, there was nothing in Eastern Europe. Poland, Russia, and all those markets didn’t have a stock market. Indonesia had a market that was closed. Taiwan and Korea had just opened up. You could invest in convertibles in companies in the hope that they might allow foreigners to invest in their equity. So that was actually the revolution of global investing. 

What does your typical day look like, and how do you stay productive?

Oh, I stop very early. I’m involved in the management of a small fund, I look at ideas and am on calls with management for various businesses. I find that very, very interesting. The hunt for new ideas is always … There’s always a difficult one. You don’t have that many in a year. You research them, you have friends recommending things. You look at them, whether they’re interesting, this, that, and the other. Diamonds are very, very rare to find, and I’m constantly on the search. 

How do you bring ideas to life?

Well, no one thing’s the same, but I always think the important thing is the efficiency of the manager or the CEO of the company. It depends on what he or she believes and how they’re looking at the business. It’s also important to see how they’re trying to grow the business and the opportunities that might be presented. All these guys are completely obsessional about their business. They always think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. If you can share their dreams and the valuation of the business is realistic. And if you think that the management is willing to partner with outside investors, and the outsiders are supportive of the management – that’s a very, very good relationship, and it’s quite special.

You also need to be with these things for a long term, five or 10 years at least, and not jump ship and change things too much.

What is a trend that excites you?

There are massive sorts of interesting stuff going on in healthcare. That’s where the long runway of growth is at the moment. All the innovation in healthcare is just quite extraordinary at the moment. That’s where we can find real excitement.

What advice would you give your younger self if you could?

Don’t believe all the things management says. Whatever they say, check it out.

What is something that you do over and over that you recommend everyone else does?

I reread transcripts and just reread stuff all the time.

What is a strategy that has helped you grow in your industry and your business?

Keeping it very simple. People are right a lot of the time, but people are wrong a lot of the time, as well. Keeping it simple is quite important. It’s much easier to be wrong conventionally than it is to be right unconventionally. And people’s truths are quite different.

What is one book that you recommend everyone read, and why?

I think a great book is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, where he never ages, this whole anti-aging thing. But it’s quite an extraordinary book. And he’s a brilliant writer, Oscar Wilde. There are so many books I’ve read, so many wonderful books. I wish I was in my library in London. Books are a very personal thing.

Do you have a favorite quote?

If you think it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Angelee Editor

Highly skilled professional with experience within the healthcare industry in network management, facility contracting and quality operations