We sat down with Spencer C. Smith, who is responsible for the management of all institutional portfolios and is co-manager of the global thematic focused portfolio at Chevy Chase Trust, to learn more about his background and who and what inspired his career in finance.
Q: How did you first develop an interest in investment management?
A: After college, I went to Budapest, Hungary on a Fulbright Scholarship to study the transition from command economies to market economies. It was a fascinating time to be in Eastern Europe and I was able to witness the concept of wealth creation being adopted on a broad scale at the same time that a market economy was born. At the time, there was a thriving “gray” economy fueled by entrepreneurship, and despite the difficult legal and regulatory environment, those businesses were thriving. My experience in Hungary got me interested in how businesses have to learn to function within their environment in order to thrive. To pursue this further, I went back to school and got my MA in International Affairs. But throughout my graduate studies, I knew that I would pursue a career in investment management.
Q: Tell us about your career and what led you to Chevy Chase Trust
A: After graduate school, I immediately went into a career in investment management at Riggs Investment Management Corporation where I specialized in global equities. My interest in the global economy led me to Morgan Stanley’s Emerging Markets Management Division and later to Fiduciary Trust Company International. Throughout this time, I lived and worked in Switzerland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Taiwan and France. I came to Chevy Chase Trust in February, 2010 after meeting Tom Frank at an investment dinner. We immediately discovered a shared philosophy regarding investments, and that philosophy is very much at the core of what we do here at Chevy Chase Trust.
Q: What is it that you enjoy most about working at Chevy Chase Trust?
A: At Chevy Chase Trust, we look for the best investment opportunities we can find globally. The firm gives us the flexibility to look broadly and discover investments that make the most sense for our clients. What sets us apart is that we are small enough that we can discuss our strategies together, but large enough that we have significant resources enabling us to serve our clients exceptionally well. I personally enjoy the cerebral aspect of the equity side of our business. It is multidisciplinary and requires us to stay abreast of macroeconomic issues while also honing our business acumen so that we understand why companies do and do not thrive under various conditions. The landscape is constantly changing and there is always a steady stream of new information to digest. Discipline, a good process, and a focused investment philosophy all help me to weed through that fire hose of information.
Q: When you are not working, how do you enjoy spending your time?
A: I’m married and have two young children, so family is definitely a focus for me these days. I also enjoy playing tennis and travelling. During my time spent overseas, I developed a real appreciation for craft beer and have tried my hand at home brewing. Through Chevy Chase Trust, I’m also involved in the Smart Sacks program which works closely with local food banks to package food and deliver it to underprivileged children.
Q: What advice will you give your children regarding money and investing?
A: The most important thing is that they develop a propensity to save and a commitment to living within their means.
Q: What about advice for an individual getting started in an investment career?
A: I would tell them to take a lot of high level statistics classes. It’s very important to hone your ability to assess probabilities rather than outcomes.