At the age of five, Virginie Maisonneuve decided she wanted to live in China and that stayed as one of her aims over the years, so when she was doing an MBA in Paris, she negotiated a deal so she could learn Chinese and live in the country for the summer.
“It was such a different world back then. You could only wear four colours of the same Mao suit, you had one brand of toilet roll, one brand of soap,” she says.
She returned to her MBA in France and in her final year she offered a project to the French ministry of foreign affairs to research agricultural technology transfer potential with China. Both governments accepted and she was hired and at the same time she took a BA in political science at the People’s University in Beijing, in Chinese.
“When I was living there, Beijing was all bicycles with maybe a few hundred taxis. The West rejected China at that time because it was a closed economy and it was communist but I could see the private entrepreneurship and the potential. People didn’t understand that the goal for China was to become a superpower and beat Japan. That drive was so important.”
Once she completed her studies, Maisonneuve decided on a career in fund management. She flew to Scotland, where she says she could learn from the “ancestors of investment management” and was offered training at Martin Currie.
“I didn’t know anyone in the industry but I am not afraid of the word no. I wrote to the chairman and he gave me a job. I was very lucky, I guess.”
Maisonneuve was trained as a manager of European funds and eventually looked to America. She wrote to a Boston fund firm and was hired to help them in planning America’s first-ever China fund: “The firm, Batterymarch, intrigued me in that it basically invented quantitative investing.
We also created the first China fund. We felt like pioneers in completely uncharted territories. You could not take the accounting or the books for what they were but had to really dig down – it was very challenging.”
She worked across emerging markets, Europe and eventually ran global funds at the firm. After working briefly in California, she moved to a New York boutique where she became CIO, again running global, Asian and emerging market funds. In 1998, she was asked by Schroders to help run its global equities. In 2004, she became the firm’s head of global and international equities and now, along with co-manager Jonathan Armitage, Maisonneuve uses her experience and her philosophies to run a 30-name global alpha fund which was launched in April.
“It is torture to pick 30 names from thousands but I have always run 30-name funds because it lets us select the best stocks and that makes it really fun to manage. The fun is in the challenge as you have to really question everything.”
Maisonneuve says she has always picked stocks using what she refers to as her themes, which have changed through her career. While she has concentrated on China or the internet in the past, the three themes she now always considers are demographics, climate change and the super-cyclical growth of emerging markets.
“Those are the big trends but this is not a top-down fund. We pick stocks by looking for quality growth at a reasonable price with sustainable competitive advantage. You have to drive the bicycle by looking at the road ahead, not by looking at your front wheel – so you have to use your macroeconomic framework.
“I have been through the Asian crisis the Latin America crisis and this one. When you are in the middle of a crisis, as a manager you feel like you are falling in an elevator and you want to get out. But the most important thing during those times is that you believe in your process. You must have faith and implement this religiously because that is your DNA as a fund manager.”
Maisonneuve admits it can be difficult to run such a fund amid the noise of the market but she has always been confident of achieving by questioning everything.
“You have to be disciplined. It means meeting the management of firms, paying a lot of attention to the balance sheet, the quality of the firm, how the workers are feeling and even how chief executives treat their secretaries. It is these little details that tell you about corporate governance. For example, I have never held BP because it cuts corners and you cannot buy a company that cuts corners. The noise is there but if you can only choose 30 names you have to pick the very best.”
Maisonneuve is confident that some areas of global markets, particularly in emerging markets, will ensure she can continue to seek out growth, regardless of the economic threats that face the world.
“Running a global fund is a big challenge but it is fascinating. I always knew fund management was the job I can do and never get bored. Every day I get to my desk and I know I have so much to do and to figure out because everything is always changing and you have to look for what else is out there. I really do love every aspect of the job.”
Born: France, 1964
Lives: Central London
Education: MBA, Ecole Supérieure Libre des Sciences Commerciales Appliquées. MA in Mandarin Chinese, Dauphine University, Paris. BA in Political Economy, People’s University, Beijing. CFA charterholder.
Career: 2004-present: head of global and international equities, Schroders; 1998-2004: co-chief investment officer, Clay Finlay; 1996-98: fund manager, State Street Research; 1990-96: fund manager, Batterymarch Financial Management; 1987-90: continental European equity fund manager, Martin Currie; 1986-87: consultant, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China
Likes: Playing tennis with my two daughters, photography, reading and yoga
Dislikes: Being stuck in the subway when it is full and hot, missing my plane
Book: Les Mots by Jean-Paul Sartre
Film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Career ambition: To be the best global stockpicker
Life ambition: To enjoy my life all of the time
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Trying to get into this job