Philip Fisher: Anatomy of a True Growth Investor

Wednesday, Jun 02 2010 by
Philip Fisher Anatomy of a True Growth Investor

The twentieth century gives us many examples of great investors but it's an interesting fact that these are almost from the value side of the tracks. From Ben Graham to John Templeton and from Bill Ruane to Warren Buffett the men – and they're all men – who've made extraordinary returns were all originally value investors. With a single exception. Standing alone as a self-confessed, all-in growth style investor is Philip A. Fisher, who initially learned his investing skills during the downturn in the early 1930's. Reading anything by Fisher is like sitting in a bubbling Jacuzzi sipping on a vodka martini and contemplating an evening of gentle debauchery with the Arts faculty: both a pleasure and an education.

Smart Beats Style

Fisher was a securities analyst before the profession was invented, being co-opted into Wall Street in 1928 just in time to both avoid serious losses and learn serious lessons. With little in the way of established practice to guide him Fisher developed his own, idiosyncratic, investing style. Yet despite his unique approach to investing what strikes you, when you read his beautifully simple prose, is how familiar the injunctions seem.

Dig into Fisher's words and analyse his actions and what becomes clear is that he is the exception that proves the rule. It's not whether you're a value investor or a growth investor that makes the difference, it's whether you're smart enough to learn the lessons of your own mistakes.

The Lessons of Experience

In anecdote after anecdote he describes the errors he made and explains why he made them. In the beginning they were through a lack of experience and of understanding, in the end they were due to an occasional lack of psychological control. Always, though, there's the single important lesson:
"I have always believed that the chief difference between a fool and a wise man is that the wise man learns from his mistakes, while the fool never does. The corollary to this is that it behooved me to go over my mistakes pretty carefully and not to repeat them again". Used appropriately that could be a manifesto for every investor. Analyse every investment, particularly the mistakes, and figure out what you did right and wrong. Almost as importantly Fisher's early experiences also taught him that being right without making money was a pointless, pyrrhic victory. The only investments…

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emptyend 2nd Jun '10 1 of 1

...looks a very familiar approach to me - though I have a way to go to catch up with his 50 years holding period..... ;-)

Fisher's main interest was in finding growth stocks, companies that had a technological edge on their competition which they could use to their advantage to compound their returns over the very long timescales he was prepared to hold for - over fifty years in some cases.

I would add a nuance to that - which is that investing for the long term in sectors which are poorly understood and inadequately analysed due to a structural bias in the market can also be a further source of advantage.


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About timarr


I'm a UK based technologist (career) and psychologist (academic) with a long-term interest in financial markets, with a particular emphasis (and skill) in how to not make money out of them. When I'm not working or blogging I'm to be found childminding, walking the dog or hiding in the garden shed with a good book :) more »

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