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An interview with investment guru, Jim Rogers

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Prime Magazine

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Chairman of Rogers Holdings and Beeland Interest Inc., James Beeland – or better known as “Jim” Rogers, Jr. (born October 19, 1942) is an American businessman, investor and author currently based in Singapore. Co-founder of the Quantum Fund and creator of the Rogers International Commodities Index, the legendary investor is also the author of several books and also a financial commentator worldwide. In this issue of PRIME, Rogers share with us on his take of the world and his personal life

 

Q. What is the most unforgettable or impressive event you could recall from your millennia adventure? You studied history, philosophy, politics and economics in university. Do you believe we should learn for the sake of learning – for the knowledge itself? From a utilitarian point of view, these subjects are less useful or accountable towards your investment skills, am I right? How did you reconcile this?

 

I studied History, Philosophy, Politics and Economics in universities. I had a lot of fun. In fact, if you want to be successful, you have to study all these subjects. History teaches you the that the world is ever-changing, and that no matter what you think you know now would change.

 

You’ll also learn that whatever is happening now has happened before. Philosophy taught you how to think. Very few people know how to think. I didn’t quite get it when I studied Philosophy in Oxford. But I figured it all out later. The three most important things I’ve figured out later in life are: to think for yourself, to question everything every day, and to make your own decisions.

 

When we grow up and experience new things, most people would just go, “Oh, that’s interesting”; most people won’t stop and question the origin of whatever that has happened – they don’t ask why. For example, they may go to war and think that is important; but they don’t understand what has happened has made it important. If you understand why things happen that change people and what really are going on, you might be able to succeed yourself and make some money.

 

Q. You have been on the road and travelling around Asia, especially China. What have you learnt from these trips?

 

I went around the road twice, and spent a lot of time in China. I don’t speak any Chinese, but I’ve learned sign language. I’ve always liked Chinese food. In 1988, I went from Pakistan to Shanghai, and then to Nanjing. The second time when I travelled the world, I was with my wife. I wrote books about both of my trips. They also made a documentary about the China back then from my experience, which was then aired on American, Australian and British TV. I also drove across the Soviet Union twice on my motorbike; people thought I must be out of mymind. Those were during the cold war period, when the sentiments between countries were very high. The many near-death experience helped me understand survival better; the days on the road, apart from serving my lust for adventure, also helped me understand the changes in the world and how people react to the changes. One big realisation from the trips was: Asia is the future of the world. I should have stayed in China, if I were smart enough.

 

Q. What makes you want to go to Wall Street back then? Was it your insight, or something else?

 

When I was in university, I had no clue – like most people – in what I’d like to do later in life. In fact, I was planning to be a lawyer. I was completely confused. Most of the things I was going to do was what people said I should do. You should be a doctor, or a lawyer, or go to business school. Thank goodness I didn’t. Thank goodness I’ve come to my senses eventually.

 

It was an accident. I had a summer job in Wall Street. I immediately fell in love with that place. I said to myself, “Here is the place they are going to pay me for getting to know what’s going on in the world; that was my passion – I was always trying to figure out what’s going on and what’ll happen next. And in here they pay me to do that and pay me really well. So I didn’t go to law school or medical school or business school. As soon as I graduate, I went to Wall Street. That’s how I stumbled upon Wall Street and it changed my life. Otherwise I would have been a lawyer in Atlanta instead of talking to you here in Singapore. If you are looking for something to do in the future to be successful, agriculture is the field to be. But don’t do it if you don’t like it. Farming is going to be fantastic and much more lucrative than investment banking in the next twenty years.

 

Q. Why do you have such great confidence in agriculture?

 

Throughout history, there have been times when farmers were rich, and others when farmers were dirt poor. Now we know that the farming industry has been a disaster in the last 30 years. The average age of farmer in US is now 58, in Japan 66; the highest rate of suicide in UK is also in agriculture because it’s a terrible industry to be. Millions of Indian farmers committed suicide because it was too hard. Something is going to change dramatically – we are not going to have any food at any price very soon. So either farming is going to be a lot more exciting and lucrative, or we’re not going to have any food. The latter is unlikely to happen, because as I said, the history has shown the downs as well as the ups for the industry.

 

Look around you, we still have our clothes and food. So in the future, somebody has to provide solutions for that soon with new technology. In 1958, America produce 5000 MBA graduates a year, the rest of the world haven’t had MBA programmes yet; Last year, America produce 200,000 MBA graduates alone, the rest of the world a few thousands more.

 

We have a huge excess of MBA right now. We are also at a point of time when governments all over the world are not particularly interested in investment banks and financial industry in general; there are many regulations, restrictions and taxes making it difficult for them. If you choose to be an investment banker right now, you’ve got the government against you, the economics against you, and the glut of MBA graduates competing with you. Farmers, on the other hand, are getting help everywhere. The governments are giving incentives to them and encouraging more people to join the industry; what’s more, there’s no competition.

 

Q. Do you think you’re an idealist or pragmatist?

 

I am an idealist . But to survive,you’ve got to be more than an idealist . You have to pay the rent; most idealists would have trouble doing that . In the world we live in, whether you like it or not , if you don’t have any money, it will be difficult for you to be a free soul. To that extent , I’m certainly more of a pragmatist; because I know, if I don’t have enough money, I’ll probably be out on the street . But philosophically speaking, my approach to the world is certainly more of an idealist . I’m anti-war, anti-capital punishment and I have many other ideals to pursue, which make many people think I’m too much an Idealist .

 

Q. You seem to have a thing for art, do you?

 

We do have a few things scattered around. To some extent, I’m fascinated by art. I sort of know what I like; if I see something I like and if I can afford it, I’ll buy it. I don’t really have much use for money. Mainly I just use money to buy my freedom. I don’t have too many material goods; I don’t really care for them. My freedom is much more important; with freedom, I can do what I want to do. The main drive of my life, whatever I do, is to buy more freedom for myself.

 

Q. How’s your health nowadays? Do you have any daily routines?

 

I try to upkeep my good health. I go to the gym two hours a day. I have an exercise bike, on which I could exercise while making phone calls or doing some work on computer. I also cycle to take my daughters to school and pick them up when school is over every day.

 

Q. Before we end, do you have any financial advice for our readers? We are speaking for a reader group who’s middle-aged and above.

 

My advice to people regarding investment is that you need to invest in things you know a lot about; don’t listen to advice on TV or magazine – stay with whatever you know a lot about. Everybody knows a lot about something, be it fashion or farming; most people lose money in investment because they invest in something they are not familiar with, which should be avoided. If I told you that you could only make 25 investments in your life, you’ll be very cautious and it’s highly likely that you make good investment with your existing professional knowledge.

 

Source: Prime Magazine Issue Oct-Nov 2015. Reproduced with permission.