Great Inspirations in Finance: My Phil Fisher Story

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While in high school, I recall my dad talking about the great growth stock investor, Phil Fisher. Phil lived in San Mateo, California, and was famous for investing in the greatest growth stocks of his era, including:

  • Motorola
  • Texas Instruments
  • FMC (Food Machinery Corp.)
  • Rogers Communications

After a tough 1991 on the short side (betting stocks would go down instead of up) of the market, I decided to learn the “long” side, so I read all three of Phil’s books: Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, Conservative Investors Sleep Well and Developing an Investment Philosophy.

Matt Feshbach Inspirations: Phil Fisher

Phil was not just looking for stocks that went up, but for great technology companies that would endure. I knew there was a lot to learn from Phil, so one day I called him.

That call was amazing in its own right as he answered the phone himself. When I introduced myself he said, “You’re the short seller, right? I was going to call you.” When I asked him why, he said, “Because I think Digital Equipment Corporation [DEC] is a short.” (I was too embarrassed to tell him that I had just bought shares in DEC! Geez!)

Well, Phil agreed to meet. (I came to learn that Phil would always meet or speak with anyone at least once, which in and of itself, said something quite profound about him. Of course, I felt more honored when we spoke and met beyond our first visit.). He felt he could learn new things from new people as well as was generous sharing his own knowledge and insights. He set a great example in that way and many others.

Phil recognized that great companies go through tough times and their stocks could be volatile. He famously rode his portfolio through the entire 1973-1974 killer market because he did not think he would be smart enough to know when to buy back in if he were to have sold–and despite suffering through that market where most growth stocks declined 80- 90%, his stock portfolio was back to an all-time high just a few years later.

His favorite poem, which I understand he could recite verbatim, is coincidentally my favorite as well. It inspires a spirit of greatness, the ability to keep one’s head and dream without making those dreams your master–all of which must never be underestimated or forgotten, especially in all aspects of business and investing.

If  by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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