You Are What Your Record Says You Are

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That’s Bill Parcells on the left, giving a Trump-esque power handshake to Bill Belichick, back when Parcells was The Man and the head coach of the New England Patriots, and Belichick was … neither. There’s a lot of body language going on in this photo, right? If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d make a big wager that Bill Belichick has never forgotten this moment, and I’d make an even bigger wager that it motivates him still.

Bill Parcells is the author of one of the greatest statements ever about, yes, the game of professional football, but even more so the human-defining games of professional politics and professional investing.

“You are what your record says you are.”

I can roll this line around in my head all day long, and it never gets old. This is Truth with a capital T, in soooo many ways. Anyone who works in a performance business knows exactly what I mean. Anyone who lives in a world where your public identity, aka your reputation, is important knows exactly what I mean. Anyone reading this article knows exactly what I mean.

It’s why THIS is the first question you ask a portfolio manager when they’ve decided to strike out on their own:

Do you own your record?

You’re not questioning their truthfulness. You’re asking whether they have the legal right to share a record of their performance with you and other investors. Yes, there’s an element of due diligence to the question, but the more important thrust of the question is to figure out if you can market this manager to the world. Because if the manager doesn’t “own” his or her track record, from a business perspective and a social perspective and a reputational perspective it’s pretty much the same thing as not having a track record at all.

If you don’t own your track record, you are invisible to the world. You have no identity that you can project, either to protect yourself from false reputational claims or to elevate yourself with truthful reputational claims. You are, not a slave, but an indentured servant to those who DO own your public identity.

So let me ask you, and I’m not (just) asking about whatever investment record you may or may not have, but I’m asking about every aspect of your behavior, from how you spend money to how you take care of your health to how you participate politically to what you watch on TV to where you go in your car to where you go on your browser to what you say on your phone and who you say it to …

Who owns your record?

I bet it’s not you.

Yes, we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

But we should damn well take back that which is not.


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Andrew Meyer
Member
Andrew Meyer

In my experience, which is as a software engineer, there are three types of workers I’ve come across.

The first type, blue collar workers, do what they’re told. Whether they’re on an assembly line, fixing power lines or plumbing. Their boss or the framework of their job dictates what they do.

The second type, corporate professionals, are taught by the corporate world, that it’s best to be passive-aggressive. Making mistakes is worse than doing nothing. Being very busy and taking no risks is the way to succeed.

The third type live by their skills and the record those skills produce. Whether they’re a trader, an engineer in a startup or an independent contractor, they have to produce in measurable ways. As long as their skills and abilities are relevant and productive, they are paid what they ask and go where they please.

I would guess 85-to-90% of the people I encounter, fall in the first two types. And they are fearful about the future, for good reason. However, if you own your record and more importantly, the skills to produce in the future, you can’t wait for the future and it looks really good.

Clear eyes, open hearts.

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Landvermesser
Member
Landvermesser

I’m in your third category and a fair amount of my cleverest work is protected as trade secrets by previous employers. That’s one way not to own your record.
The people I’ve worked with whose major skill is playing Professional! are picking up pennies in front of a steamroller, but that can go on for a long time and can be frustrating to watch.

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Andrew Meyer
Member
Andrew Meyer

Playing Professional! is insightful. Owning your record is one way to categorize people, another is ‘pain to replace’. For example, there’s no pain to replace a blue-collar worker. You can swap out on an assembly line worker in minutes or if one Uber driver goes off, they’re replaced without anyone even knowing.

Contrast that to someone who owns their record, i.e. is painful to replace. In this situation, it is the firm that is hurt by the person leaving and it will take the firm months or years to find a replacement. For example, Dan Marino left the Miami Dolphins in 1999 and they still haven’t found a replacement.

Maybe Landvermesser can’t take his record with him, but how long would it take your firm to replace you? How long it would take you to find an equivalent opportunity? If it would take your firm ten-times as long to find someone and get them equivalently productive; you own your record, even if corporate frameworks dictate that you can’t take it with you.

The other category is corporate professional. They dress and act a certain way, but are they difficult to replace or are they playing Professional!? If they’re playing Professional!, maybe it takes a day or a week to replace them.

Owning your record is one way to think about this, pain to replace is another.

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Michael
Member

Unfortunately Andrew the “pain to replace” can sometimes only be appreciated by myopic management once you leave an organisation. “Medium talent” playing Professional! managers can make this possible. Mark I like your reputation idea as this lasts longer particularly as asset managers try to co-manage or team manage funds to dilute individual attribution and protect the business.

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Victor K
Member
Victor K

I would have said you own your own scars – because at least that way you have at least some self determination of who you are.

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Eric Cheung
Member
Eric Cheung

I like to believe that we own our actions which, in turn, produces our record. However, we don’t “own” (or have much control over) how these actions are perceived by others. The historical documentation of your actions, through the lens of a narrative, is varied and complex from memories of friends/families, to strangers that interact with you, to your overall reputation at your work, to what we have now with social media. Such a disconnect between your actions and the perception of those actions can be abused. But I believe with enough insight into ourselves and others, we can take the appropriate precautions to avoid egregious abuse of our record.

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Victor K
Member
Victor K

Much better said than my clumsy effort. Thanks

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Mark Kahn
Member
Mark Kahn

It must drive the metaphysics philosophers and the deep-truth seekers nuts, but yup, here on earth, in the somewhat-free and developed world – in many (but not all) ways, you are what your public record says you are, but good luck with that.

If you can really control your public record in this world, you have a talent (maybe or maybe not a morality and maybe or maybe not a talent for what that record avers, but a valuable talent none the less).

For the rest of us, there are two records – the one that’s out there in multiple ways in multiple docs (ever had a 360 review [a sincerely soul-draining event even if you do “well”] / a Myers Briggs test / a Performance Development Plan / [to Ben’s point] a record managing money [numbers can do handstands when skillfully, um, presented]) and the second “other” record that those who know you – sincerely, deeply know you – attribute to you.

I don’t have the talent to control my public record (it’s not bad and it’s not interesting to most – and early in my career, as a prop trader, I did control it, but when my career morphed into being a manager of traders, strategists, analysts, etc., I became a cog in a corporate machine) – but I take great pride in the “other” record that those who know me and those who work with me have of me – it’s called a reputation.

I’ve carried my public record into interviews, client meetings, presentations, etc., and sometimes those docs are focussed on and sometimes they sit handed out and unread especially if enough people in those meetings know my reputation and not some (channelling Ben) cartoon of my record on a piece of paper (run multiple businesses inside large financial organizations and tell me your recored on paper isn’t a cartoon).

So, yes, in a way, you are your public “official” record and – depending on the path you want your life and career to take – that can be the determinant. But you also have another record – your reputation, and that can also do a lot for you.

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