I am beginning to think that introductions are everything. Thanks to an introduction from John Tregenza, our Director of Client Development at Bell Investment Advisors, Bonnie and I met Judith Brown Meyers, Ph.D., an international policy consultant with many years of experience helping the tiny Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan (population 650,000) nestled in the Himalayas.
Dr. Meyers has spent many years advising Bhutan on various matters, including the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Protection and the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature. Since there are no local capital markets for these organizations, their funds are managed in the USA. Following her recommendation, the Bhutan Trust Fund invited us to make an educational presentation in the Bhutanese capital city of Thimphu about the Practice of Investment Management in the United States.
Material and Spiritual Integration
The more I learned about Bhutan, the more I felt that this may be the most perfect invitation of my professional life. The mission of Bhutan as a nation and a culture is to integrate and harmonize the material world and the spiritual world. In Bhutan you quickly experience that there is no separation of church and state. Monks and monasteries, temples, and prayer flags are everywhere, woven into the fabric of the culture. The monk body (approximately 5,000 men and women) shares facilities with the offices of parliament and the various government departments in large, exquisite, traditional structures called Dzongs.
The material and spiritual dynamic of Bhutan appeals to me because, in many ways, it has been the challenge of my own life. When I was 13, I was captivated by the New Testament assertion: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13) Immediately I felt there must be a middle path, a harmony between the material and spiritual.
Gross National Happiness
Bhutan traces its royal history from 1907 to the present time and fifth king, the Oxford-educated, 31-year old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who, by the time you read this, will have been married for about one week. It’s a very exciting time in Bhutan right now because of its own Royal Wedding.
It was the current king’s father, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who in 1972 declared a democracy in Bhutan and famously said that as the country began to connect with the rest of the world, it would continue to care more about the Gross National Happiness of its people (GNH), than its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This concept has now echoed around the world and was most recently adopted as part of the official platform of the United Nations.
At the heart of Buddhism in Bhutan is a reverence for nature. Bhutan is committed to preserving the incredible natural beauty and uncommon culture that values kindness as its deepest value. They do not intend to materially develop like their closest neighbors, Nepal, Tibet (now China), and India, where the modus operandi seems to be “environment be damned.”
In harmony with Bhutanese aesthetics, Bonnie and I decided to have Nancy Isaacs, our Marketing Communications Specialist, and Erica Padgett, our summer Media Intern from U.C. Davis, photograph our Japanese garden, koi pond, and tea house as graphic background for our PowerPoint presentation. On September 14 in Thimphu, Bhutan, we were able to connect with our audience of government ministers and business executives around our personal respect and reverence for nature celebrated at our home in Berkeley.
Ms. Bing Chan, our Director of Relationship Management, suggested that we bring as a gift a recording of the World Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, which we commissioned from well-known American (and Bay Area) composer, Nolan Gasser. This concerto premiered at the Oakland East Bay Symphony in January 2009. The theme of the concerto represents our global strategy and philosophy as expressed in the phrase performance without prejudice.
What this means, as it relates to our proprietary momentum-based strategy, is basically that we will invest in markets anywhere on the globe – without prejudice – as long as those funds meet our performance and other criteria as measured by our quantitative technology and qualitative standards.
The concerto dramatizes a musical conversation between four major world cultures: the West, East Asia, India, and Arabia. Buddhism may be the most open and tolerant of all the world religions, so our World Concerto was right at home in Bhutan, and much appreciated by our new friend and primary host, Dr. Pema Choephyel, Executive Director of the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation.
We are grateful for this opportunity to present our personal and professional experiences in a culture that honors the material and spiritual. And it was especially satisfying to collaborate with our whole staff contributing to the quality of our presentation.
Some of our readers and clients may think it is inappropriate to write about this experience when the world markets are so volatile and causing so much pain. Please know that the firm is always in expert hands when I am gone and that I was on email every day in spite of being a 15-hour plane ride away and high in the Himalayas. We are doing everything we know how to do to navigate this market environment. Life goes on regardless of market losses and gains. The material and spiritual persist.