Thursday, May 7, 2009

American Julian Robertson's art gift to New Zealand

Ever so often one comes across a piece of news that makes one take notice. When I used to cover the financial markets in Singapore as a journo, I got the chance to interview many financial wizards. Too bad I never had the chance to catch up with Julian Robertson. I love the name Julian. If I had a son, he would have been called Julian. Julian Robertson was famed for his Tiger Fund then. It was an era of hedge fund heady-ness, and I remember the traders in Singapore drinking on the highs. Those were the days.

Yesterday hubby pointed me to news of Julian Robertson gifting 15 major pieces of artwork -- including works by Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Piet Mondrian -- to the Auckland Art Gallery. The art work will be on display in Auckland for a month before travelling to Te Papa in Wellington, then home to the Robertson's in New York.

According to the NZ Herald, the late 19th to mid 20th century paintings by prominent European artists come from the private collection of New Yorkers Julian and Josie Robertson, who have strong ties to New Zealand -- including ownership of the Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers golf courses.

Good on Julian Robertson, perhaps Princess and I will trot down to the Auckland Art Gallery to take a look at these art works. I first learnt of cubism art from Princess, when at year 3 or 4, her class had to do Picasso-like art work. Princess then had to write about Picasso and his life. She even learnt of Dora Maar, Picasso's "girlfriend" (mistress in the adult world). One school holiday, we even designed a boardgame together, based on Picasso and his life.

Robertson graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in business administration in 1955. He had a stint in the Navy, then joined Kidder, Peabody & Co. in New York in 1957 and, over the years became a wizard of Wall Street's.

When he was 48 years old, he started out on his own, setting up the investment/hedge fund firm, Tiger Management Group, in 1980. The fund quickly grew, and within 10 years had reached $1 billion in investments; and then to $21 billion in 1998. After a series of successes, he got badly hit by the markets and his fund shrunk back in size to $6 billion. He then decided to walk away from the markets in 2000, telling his clients he simply didn't "understand the markets anymore".

He did later make a comeback but in between found a magnificent spot in New Zealand to play golf. At Kauri Cliffs (ranked in 2005 by Golf Magazine as No 58 in the world), and Cape Kidnappers (another golf course in Northland, ranked 27th in the golf world by the same magazine), Julian Robertson can play all the golf he wants.

By now, Julian Robertson's investment savvy is legendary. He has given up managing other people's money directly. Instead, he is a "talent spotter" picking a group of market wizards who manages funds he then invests in. He has done well. According to media reports, his tiger cubs (investment managers he is betting on) have returned above market averages, using the same style he uses. Julian Robertson has been betting the American economy will tank, and foreign investors will stop buying US bonds. He would have done very well indeed.

What does this man do for a living now? The firm that was founded to support Julian Robertson's own funds now provides infrastructure for and invests in a total of 34 hedge funds, employing a wide variety of different strategies, with a total of about $26 billion under management.

Julian Robertson and his wife first came to New Zealand in 1979. It was to be his writing retreat -- the great American novel was his dream. He says in his statement on the gifting of his art works to New Zealand. "We have had a lifelong love affair with New Zealand . We love Auckland. And we love these pictures. That's why we were so pleased when we brought these works to New Zealand that New Zealanders seemed to enjoy them as much as we do. Frankly, bringing the pictures was probably the most appreciated thing we have ever done. We are delighted to be able to make this gift."

He and his wife Josie have made other generous donations to various courses including the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City; the Health Care Chaplaincy; the Central Park Conservancy; cancer research; and public and private elementary and secondary education.

Check out this article from Bloomberg which follows up on what Julian Robertson has been up to at Kauri Cliffs.

My favourite quote from Julian Robertson: "When you manage money, it takes over your life." He says of his current lifestyle: "I really like this better."