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Edition 7 - People

Learnings from a life of risk and conviction

Not much more could teach you the power of humanity, risk and resource management like fleeing your homeland in search of a bigger destiny.

When Nader Naeimi was 17 years of age, he hatched a plan to escape from his home in Isfahan, Iran, cross the border into Turkey and head towards the United States.

He was one of six friends making the dash, all keen to escape being drafted into the national service by the Iranian government, which at that time was warring with Iraq.

One night in April 1988 just after dusk, the six friends jumped into the back of a utility vehicle and hid as the driver headed towards the Turkish border, more than 700 kilometres away. Iraq was closer but that wasn’t an option. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan weren’t enticing. Turkey seemed the best chance of success.

When they reached the border area, and approached the first of several border crossings, the six friends jumped out of the back of the car a few hundred metres before the check point and headed into the bush.

“The crossings were quite frightening,” Naeimi says. “It was like being in a movie. We could see all the lights and the dogs barking. We were in camouflage. We had to be careful.”

A few hundred metres down the road, the group jumped back into the vehicle and drove to the next check point. They got out again, skirted civilisation, and returned to the vehicle a kilometre down the road. Naeimi and his friends didn’t have passports. They didn’t have much food, though they had been given some money.

The crossings were quite frightening. It was like being in a movie. We could see all the lights and the dogs barking. We were in camouflage. We had to be careful.”

The night of the border crossing was cold. It was spring, but that region of the globe is mountainous. The snows had melted from the fierceness of winter, but warmth was an issue. They made it to Turkey just before dawn, cold, thirsty and hungry and without much of a plan.

Naeimi and his friends were still only moving at night. On the second night, they climbed a mountain on the Turkish border, hoping to head towards Istanbul which was 1,000 kilometres west, and then on to northern Europe.

“We had someone showing us the way over the mountain. I remember that we kept asking him ‘how much longer?' He always said ‘two hours’. It was a very hard walk.

“By the time we made it to the top it was 6am. We were thirsty because we had no water. One of the guys had food poisoning and we had to carry him.”

The friends bunkered down for the day, ready to resume their trek at nightfall.

“As soon as we started walking again, all these Turkish soldiers appeared. I have no idea where they came from, but they were everywhere. They radioed through to their base and were told to just send us back.”

Naeimi didn’t speak Turkish so didn’t understand the command. One of the friends, the only woman, understood the order over the radio and started screaming.

“When the superiors heard a woman was in the group, they said: ‘OK, send them down.' And that’s what happened,” Naeimi says. They entered Turkey on a two-year refugee visa, under the United Nations HCR program.

 Nader’s favourite lessons

 Nader shares his favourite quotes, learnings and insights about work, life and investing.

  • You won’t learn if you don’t fail. Learn from failures. Observe the patterns of mistakes to see if they are products of weakness. 
  • “Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement” – Fred Brooks.
  • Take calculated risks, but make sure you don’t put survival at risk. Remember, risk’s greatest fuels are overconfidence, ego, and impatience. Its greatest enemies are having options, humility, and other people’s trust. 
  • “You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe” – Leymah Gbowee.
  • Stay calm under pressure. First remember everything looks bigger up close. So put problems into perspective and deal with it logically, not emotionally. Facts first, decisions later. First learnings, then deciding. Remember the words of Publilius Syrus: “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm”. 
  • You can turn your weakness into your strength only if you have an open mind, growth mindset and determination.
  • You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.
  • “Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people” – Nido Qubein.

He wanted to go to the United States, but as an Iranian that wasn’t possible. He had a friend in Australia, who sponsored him to come to Sydney in 1990.

“I turned up, stayed with my friend for two days and then I was on my own.”

The first year he worked in factories and studied English. In his second year, 1991, he did combined years 11 and 12 at high school, doing the Higher School Certificate at the end of that year.

His maths teacher suggested he do actuarial studies and that’s what Naeimi did. “The starting salaries looked pretty attractive, and I was pretty good at maths.”

He studied at Macquarie University and eventually did a Masters, meanwhile getting a junior job at former investment bank Bankers Trust. He moved onto GIO Asset Management, as an investment strategist. That group was bought by AMP a year later.

Naeimi is now 50 years old, married with two children, and head of dynamic markets at AMP Capital. He is well dressed, speaks eloquently and is passionate about what he believes in.

“My experience allows me to step back and put things into perspective,” he concedes without a hint of understatement. “And I am a risk taker. Though I’m also very patient and happy to spend time absorbing information until I feel confident about things.”

When it comes to investing, I’m high conviction. I don’t like to sit on the fence. In a world where there are a lot of ETFs and market indices, a fund manager is only valuable if they have conviction.”

Investing, he says, is an exercise in objectivity. “You have to look through the noise and find the right signals. You have to think differently to other investors because you can’t just do what they do.”

“I’m cynical to conventional wisdom. When I see markets become one-way traffic and everyone thinks the same way, I become a bit cynical. It’s my nature. I’m a bit contrarian."

“When it comes to investing, I’m high conviction. I don’t like to sit on the fence. In a world where there are a lot of ETFs and market indices, a fund manager is only valuable if they have conviction. But you need to be given the time horizon for that conviction to play out,” he says.

Naeimi says he is always thinking about markets, even when he is relaxing.

 

“In terms of data, there is so much data around now. But people confuse having a lot of insights with having foresight. It’s important investors don’t miss the forest for the trees.”

“It is about believing in an investment philosophy, following a process and being patient. Just because there is short-term volatility doesn’t mean you should move away from your philosophy,” Naeimi explains, not sounding at all like the 18-year old refugee who risked it all.

Looking back on his life’s journey, Naeimi, who has returned to Iran a few times, says that fleeing to Turkey was a conviction play, just like when he invests.

“The irony is that three months after we got to Turkey, the war in Iran ended. I’m not even sure we needed to leave. But it all worked out.”

Important Notes

While every care has been taken in the preparation of these articles, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in them including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Performance goals are merely goals. There is no guarantee that the strategy will achieve that level of performance. The information in this document contains statements that are the author’s beliefs and/or opinions. Any beliefs and/or opinions shared are as at the date shown and are subject to change without notice. These articles have been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. They should not be construed as investment advice or investment recommendations. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this document, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This document is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided and must not be provided to any other person or entity without the express written consent of AMP Capital.

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