Reflecting on my Experience on the Blyth Fund
Blogger: Chris Suzdak
As we began interviews for new student directors to replace the departing seniors (including myself!), I found myself reminiscing about how this experience has shaped my Oxy career and post-Oxy outlook.
The Blyth Fund is a 14-member student-run investment portfolio with over $100,000 in real money. The Fund dates back to the 1970's when a donation was made to begin student investment funds at a select number of undergraduate institutions to foster the financial education that traditional liberal arts programs typically lack. The 14 Directors meet twice a week to discuss market news, review our holdings, present buy and sell proposals, and continually educate ourselves on finance.
My last presentation was a general overview of our Industrials sector, which includes both Waste Management (WM) and Canadian National Railway (CNI). In addition to evaluating each company's business model and industry conditions, the Directors discussed whether we needed to trim from one or both to bring the overall portfolio allocation to Industrials back in line with our long-term target. Because we don't anticipate any accelerated economic growth in North America, we decided to trim back in CNI to have a 50/50 split within Industrials between the two companies.
But Oxy's liberal arts focus means that the Blyth Fund isn't all profit-max. Recently, we've added a Socially Responsible Investment Chair position, who is charged with informing the other Directors about the social and environmental track records of our current holdings as well as any other companies being considered. A few weeks ago, I also presented on "shareholder activism" during the "Blyth U" section of our meeting, in which we take turns educating ourselves on relevant investment tools and concepts. The idea behind shareholder activism is that we can use our shares' voting rights to help shape corporate policies. This can be more effective when the majority of shareholders in a single company, who usually are a large number of individual investors, are connected through online social networks such as the United States Proxy Exchange, and mobilize to actually pressure a board of directors. On top of all of that, a separate Impact Fund was formed by students at Oxy last year that focuses on microfinance.
My stint on the Fund has also provided me with other valuable experience such as taking trips to regional investment conferences, listening to alumni business leaders and investment managers speak to us during meetings, and getting emails from young alumni about possible finance internship job leads.
While I have decided not to pursue the traditional finance career track and instead probably pursue African economic development work, my exposure to portfolio management will surely still come in handy in both professional and personal settings.
Here is a link to our website: www.blythfund.com