What you can learn about investing from captain cool MS Dhoni

While cricket and investing are poles apart, the ordinary investor would do well to emulate some of the Indian captain’s sterling behavioural qualities

Man wearing suit holding a chart

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been one of the most successful captains of the Indian Cricket Team. He has the most wins by an Indian captain in both tests and one day internationals. Among other laurels, he led India to victory in the 2007 ICC World Twenty20, the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup and the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy. In 2009 the Indian team rose to be number one in tests for the first time.

Here are a few traits of Dhoni that investors would do well to emulate.

Captain Cool

Dhoni is famously known as Captain Cool. There is an imperturbable quality about him. He doesn’t get worked up in tense match situations. These qualities of grace under pressure and not buckling under the weight of expectations have helped him achieve great heights in his career.

A calm temperament is a great asset in the field of investment as well. When the markets tank, most investors lose sleep as they see the value of their portfolios shrink. Warren Buffett has said that you should be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy. In a bear market, investors should be able to coolly evaluate which high-quality stocks have become available at a bargain and snap them up. Instead, most of them are either unable to invest more in equities, or worse still, sell their equity holdings altogether.

A calm temperament is a great asset in the field of investment as well

Persistence

M S Dhoni at Adelaide Oval [February 2008]
MS Dhoni at Adelaide Oval [February 2008]; Licensed under [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Blnguyen [wikimedia]
Being the captain of a cricket team requires the self-confidence to persist with decisions even when they don’t seem to be working out in the short run. Dhoni has displayed this quality in ample measure during his long career. Often, the young players that he has bet on to replace senior players have gone through lean patches. And yet Dhoni has persisted with them until they have found their bearings and performed.

The game of investment requires similar tenacity. If most of your investments are in equities—as they need to be if you wish to build wealth over the long term for goals like retirement, children’s education and marriage—then the ride is not going to be smooth. Equities typically do well for one spell and then underperform thereafter. Sometimes the bear market can be prolonged. But the long-term course of equities is upward. Only investors who have the strength of character to stick to their asset allocation and persist with their systematic investment plans [SIPs] when the markets are doing badly will build wealth over the long term.

On the other hand, those who hop from one asset class to another, i.e., from the one that is doing badly to the one that is doing well, will always end up buying assets when they are expensive and selling them when they are cheap. This is the exact antithesis of the approach you need to adopt to build wealth.

Not buckling under the weight of expectations has helped dhoni achieve great achieve heights in his career

Calculated bets

Dhoni does take risks but they are well-calculated ones. He does not have a reckless, all-or-nothing approach. This is reflected in the composition of the teams that he fields. Depending on the sort of pitch that the team will play on, he may take an extra spinner or an extra pace bowler. But he rarely goes with an all-pace or all-spin attack.

An investor too should make calculated bets. Warren Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger often give the analogy that they have mastered the art of vaulting over small obstacles rather than very high ones. Mohnish Pabrai of Pabrai Funds also says that investors should make bets only when the odds are overwhelmingly in their favour.

As for an investor who follows the asset allocation approach, the strategic allocation of his portfolio should be determined by the nature of his goals. Within that he may make some tactical variations. For instance, a typical investor may have an 8 – 12 per cent or 5 – 10 per cent strategic allocation to gold in a long-term portfolio. He may tactically shift his weightage depending on the performance of the asset class, moving to the upper end of that range when the asset class is performing badly [buy low] and to the lower end when it is performing well [sell high].

Dhoni does take risks but they are well-calculated ones. He does not have a reckless, all-or-nothing approach

The Finisher

Dhoni is known to be one of the finest finishers in one-day cricket. Given his position lower down the batting order, he often comes in to bat in the wake of a collapse in the middle order. He has the art of being able to pace his innings well. For the greater part of his innings, he will steal singles and twos and hit the odd boundary. But he rarely goes for fireworks at the start of his innings. It’s only towards the end that he breaks the shackles and accelerates with towering hits.

The ordinary investor, too, needs to pace his investments well. But here things work in the opposite manner. When you are young and are many years away from your goal, you have the liberty to take higher risks. You can put a larger part of your corpus in risky assets like equities. The reason: even if the markets fall and stay down for a long time, you don’t need to worry as time is your ally. In a year or two, the equity market will recover and resume its upward journey.

As you get closer to your goal—say when you are five years away from retirement—you need to reduce the risk in your investment and move a larger portion to fixed-income assets, so that a downturn in the equity market does not affect your retirement plans.

When you are young and are many years away from your goal, you have the liberty to take higher risks

Know your limitations

Dhoni has stuck to his primary role of wicket—keeping throughout his career. Despite being regarded as a good batsman—he has an average of above 50 in his one—day career and nearly 40 in his Test career—he has stuck to the lower middle order and has not promoted himself up the order. This is the sign of a man who knows his strengths and weaknesses and works well within his limitations.

Investments too require you to have an acute awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Buffett advises all stock market investors to invest within their circle of competence. He says that they should not invest in sectors or industries that they know very little about.

Often, investors over-estimate their abilities, oversimplify the investing process and adopt a do-it-yourself [DIY] approach. Investing is difficult and they would do well by having a competent financial advisor. Remember, it’s for a reason that even the best sportspersons have coaches.

A version of this article was first published in the November 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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