Don't take business lessons from Downton Abbey

Lord Grantham: no businessman.

Caution! Don't read on if you haven't watched the first episode of the third series of Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey is normally leisurely viewing, but high-net worth (HNW) ears will have pricked last night at the news that Lord Grantham has invested his fortune in a doomed railway company and faces ruin.

Going from hero to zero – with the inevitable family fallout – is something that keeps even the wealthiest awake. So a quick analysis of Grantham’s mistake may put a few minds at rest today.
   
Diversification is the buzzword of many portfolio managers. Complicated as it sounds, the idea condenses into the simple thought that investing across a series of asset classes, sectors, geographies and maturities achieves the same returns as investing in one stock, but – crucially – with less risk.

The concept is sufficiently appealing that some HNWs go overboard on it though. Breaking their fortunes into a thousand pieces after liquidity events, they unknowingly diversify themselves into mediocrity and ensure that, while safe, their money won’t grow at the rate required to counter inflation, family spending or the taxman.

A balance therefore needs to be struck, and Lord Grantham would have done well to listen to the advice of Murray, his money manager, in this department.

Academics currently posit that the vast majority of diversification benefits can be achieved with 12 to 18 holdings. This represents a happy balance between, at one end, concentrated investment in the few first class opportunities that come our way in a lifetime, and, at the other, the don’t-put-your-eggs-in-one-basket mentality.

What it comes down to is that when you are worth hundreds of millions – as Lord Grantham was – the battle is not so much investment management as risk management.

Wealth preservation is the Holy Grail, and the fallout of failing to achieve it will be graphically laid out in Julian Fellowes' third season.

This article first appeared in Spear's.

The cast of Downton Abbey. Photograph, Getty Images.

Freddy Barker writes for Spear's.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.