Cowboy Ethics

“The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Armed with this sage advice from Dr. Seuss, I spent a good part of last weekend reading through Ned Goodman’s annual letters.  At this point, you might be asking, “Who the hell is Ned Goodman?”  Good question.

Before last weekend, I wouldn’t have been able to offer you any insight.  And I honestly don’t even recall how I first stumbled across Dundee Corporation’s 2011 Annual Report.  It’s probably been riding around in my fifteen-year-old brief case for the past several months.  But last weekend, it made it’s way to the top of “the stack” and after reading last year’s report, I couldn’t help myself to several others.

Ned Goodman is the President and CEO of Dundee Corporation,  a $56 billion Canadian asset management company dedicated to private wealth management, real estate and resources.  My friends in Ottawa tell me that he is sort of a “Canadian Investment Hero” who started out small four decades ago and over time, turned his investment club into billions.  Dundee is known in Canada to have great funds and  great assets in mining and real estate globally.

Goodman’s letters may be somewhat of a chore for those not accustomed to spending weekends reading annual reports, but they are filled with terrific market perspective and investment advice.  I particularly enjoyed the excerpt below, from Jim Owen’s 2004 book, Cowboy Ethics – What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.

Yes – this book actually exists.

Principles of Cowboy Ethics:

  1. Live each day with courage – “Real courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.
  2. Take pride in your work –work doesn’t build character – it reveals it.
  3. Always finish what you start. When you are riding through hell, keep riding and never give up.
  4. Do what has to be done – The true test of a man’s honour is how much he would risk to make it happen. It’s not always easy to do the right thing, but nobody ever said it would be.
  5. Be tough, but fair. The Golden Rule is nothing less than the key to survival. And to quote John Wayne in his last film, the Shootist (1976): “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on; I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.”
  6. When you make a promise, keep it. A man is only as good as his word. To take this to Bay and Wall Streets you only need two things from those in those streets: a) someone you can trust and b) someone you can count on.
  7. True cowboys ride for the brand. A poem written about this by cowboy Red Steagall tells about an old cowpoke named Jake who is “schooling” a new kid. “Son”, he said, “a man’s brand is his own special mark; it says: this is mine, leave it alone. You hire out to a man, you ride for his brand. And protect it like it was your own.” He carved him this ranch out of blood, sweat and guts, so be proud that you ride for his brand”. To take this to the investment industry, make no mistake where your loyalties should lie. The client comes first, not when it’s convenient, not when you feel like it, but always. The cowboy’s greatest devotion is to his calling and his way of life.
  8. Talk less and say more. To the cowboy, “the bigger the mouth the better it looks shut.” To quote Owen, that’s why the cowboy ranked lawyers and other windbags not much higher than cattle rustlers. “When there is nothing to say, don’t be saying it”. But when words are scarce, the ones you do say become all the more important. In my world: keep it simple; keep it true.
  9. Remember that some things are not for sale. There is no amount of money that is enough to make a cowboy cheapen and dishonour the way of life he has chosen. To a cowboy, the best things in life are not things. We all think we are smart, but some of us often do not realize that it is foolish to forget to value our reputation above all else.
  10. Know where to draw the line. There is right and there is wrong; and nothing in between. Just because something is not illegal doesn’t mean it is right.
  11. We should all have an undaunted curiosity to find answers to questions to which we do not know the answer.