What We Believe: The 10 Ps of Manager Selection

July 25, 2023
  • Private Banking
In the feature article of this issue of InvestorView, BBH Co-Chief Investment Officer Justin Reed and Head of Investment Research Ilene Spitzer cover the “10 Ps” that are core to our manager selection process.

At Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), we seek to partner with a select group of the highest-quality investment managers that we believe are best in class. Partnering with only a select roster of managers allows us to perform deep research on both prospective and existing managers, but also increases the importance of making great manager selection decisions. We look to partner with managers for the long term, thinking of these relationships as akin to marriage. This too increases the need to make great decisions.

Manager selection and monitoring are part of the role of our Investment Research Group. As institutional investors, we are often asked what we look for when conducting manager research and reviews. Because every investment manager is different, our diligence process is unique to each situation. However, some areas are core to every manager underwriting process, and we refer to these as the “10 Ps.” We seek to identify those managers whose people, passion, perspective, (willingness to) progress or evolve, philosophy, process, portfolio management, partnership, principles, and performance lead to a sustainable edge that we believe is highly likely to produce attractive returns over time. We have found that consistent use of the 10 Ps in our diligence process reduces the chance of adverse manager selection. Of course, no approach or process fully eliminates the possibility of mistakes, but our goal is to enhance the probability of selecting only the best investment managers. As such, the 10 Ps have been designed and refined to improve the probability of investment manager success in the future.

The 10 Ps are based not only on a detailed review of academic literature, trade journals, and white papers, but also on our own research and experience. When evaluating investment managers, we consider both qualitative and quantitative factors. Interestingly, the 10 Ps are predominately qualitative considerations that involve a considerable amount of judgment, which is part of the challenge of manager selection. Quantitative data are used to make assessments in each of these areas, but judgment must be applied in successful interpretation of that information.

Icons depicting BBH's 10 Ps of manager selection. First row (left to right): people, passion, perspective. Second row (left to right): progress, philosophy, process, portfolio management. Third row (left to right): partnership, principles, performance.

To a large extent, all of the Ps begin and end with people, and we believe this is one of the most critical factors to evaluate and understand. As a result, we spend a lot of time with key investment professionals as well as the rest of the organization. Put simply, we are looking for great, high-integrity people who happen to be great investors. In early conversations, we seek to understand each investment professional’s career path and what has driven their decisions. We dive into the design and rationale for the team’s organizational structure. We probe the leadership team on succession planning, even when a transition does not appear forthcoming.

Our focus on long-term partnerships requires that we think about the various permutations of future economic regimes and how an organization will respond under each of those environments. We also spend a lot of time with the junior team, understanding the depth of the organization. Firm and team stability are important considerations for the long-term compounding of capital. We do not take what we are told as fact, but rather conduct numerous reference calls and meetings in search of the truth.

The investment managers with whom we partner tend to be led by extraordinarily smart people, but we define smart in a variety of ways. Of course, we look for “intellectual horsepower,” but we’ve found that most high-quality managers are led by individuals who exhibit this traditional definition of smart. For us, smart also implies emotional intelligence and interpersonal awareness. According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart from peers with similar technical skills and knowledge.Such leaders ask great questions, listen to what others are saying, encourage thoughtful debate, stay engaged in conversations, and, importantly, can attract and retain talent. Smart people also exercise strong judgment and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and are aware of the effect their words and actions will have on the team. Leaders exhibiting such qualities are better able to get the most out of their teams, develop their resources, and retain their talent.

One characteristic we look for when spending time with key decision-makers is passion. Many of the successful managers with whom we partner love investing and have an intrinsic motivation to generate strong long-term performance. These passionate investors come across as diligent, intellectually curious, determined, and have a strong desire to “go above and beyond.”

Passion is related to one of the keys of manager selection: ascertaining motivation. We work to understand what motivates the individuals, underwriting their passion for investing and commitment to acting in the best interest of their clients. It’s important to explore why someone has decided to become an investor and why he or she has decided to launch a new investment organization.

We look for managers who are motivated both by long-term investment success and by helping clients achieve their financial goals. One might assume that most investment managers are motivated by these goals, but the facts suggest otherwise.

In a recent CFA Institute study,  "Motivation as the Hidden Variable of Performance," just 28% of investment managers stated a purpose of helping clients achieve their financial goals. The study’s authors named this passion motivation “phi,” stating that it “is distinctly different from the short-term outperformance motivation or asset-gathering focus of our industry.” Their research suggested that a “one point increase in phi is associated with 28% greater odds of excellent organizational performance, 55% greater odds of excellent client satisfaction, and 57% greater odds of excellent employee engagement.” Accordingly, we believe that managers that are passionate about, and motivated by, long-term investment success and excellent client outcomes are more likely to achieve those goals.2

We also look for qualities suggesting a desire to be an entrepreneur or manager. Running a business is a different exercise than investing. Many excellent investment analysts are incapable of successfully running their own funds. Funds led by decision-makers who are passionate about both investing and the leadership of the firm are at an advantage to individuals who are only passionate about one or the other.

Long-term investing is difficult, and we believe investment managers benefit from understanding what is needed for success. We think the best investors in the world have great perspective in that they exhibit high levels of humility and a learning mindset. In “The Road to Character,” David Brooks writes: “Humility is accurate self-awareness from a distance. It is moving over the course of one’s life from the adolescent’s close up view of yourself, in which you fill the whole canvas, to a landscape view in which you see from a wider perspective, your strengths and weakness, your connection and dependencies, and the role you play in a larger story.” Even the best investors make mistakes, and the ability to acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and move on differentiates the most successful portfolio managers. Humility often shows up as a lack of excessive ego or concerns about status. Such investors are predominantly focused on “truth-seeking” as opposed to confirming their status. Thus, they are quick to share credit, praise others freely, and sometimes even forgo credit in the interest of celebrating a team’s collective win. They demonstrate strong alignment toward team goals and prioritize collective wins over individual ones. Such leaders are self-confident, but not arrogant.

We recently met with a portfolio manager and probed his decision to exit a public equity position at a price close to where he had purchased the position. Interestingly, he admitted to making a mistake and gave credit to one of his analysts for making him aware of a previously unforeseen risk to the business. We continued to follow that position, and the portfolio manager’s willingness to listen to his team avoided losses for our clients as the stock price subsequently declined dramatically.

Managers who have strong perspective also have the humility to know the limits of their capabilities. For example, many newly launched firms are founded by investment professionals who have not previously managed a firm. As a result, they tend to lack the operational and back-office expertise needed to run an institutional-quality firm. Leaders with perspective quickly understand that they may not have the capability of performing such support tasks, and therefore focus on finding high-quality, experienced employees to fill those roles.

We also look for managers who have a learning or growth mindset. Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck has published a variety of research papers suggesting that people with a fixed mindset, or those who believe abilities are fixed, are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset, or those who believe abilities can be developed through effort. Growth mindset-oriented investment managers are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves and their processes and are more likely to perceive setbacks as a necessary part of the learning process. We seek to partner with managers that learn from difficult periods and strive to come out the other side as stronger investors. Accordingly, we believe investors who have the perspective to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes, as well as the experiences of others, are best positioned for long-term success.

One of the unspoken rules many allocators adhere to is the idea that a manager who changes his or her investment strategy or process is bad. Like many investment concepts, we think this is a principle, not a rule. Rules-based investors might automatically redeem from a manager when faced with strategy or process changes, but more nuanced investors will seek to understand why the change has been made and apply judgment to assess if the changes represent an improvement or deterioration. Indeed, some evolutions can be positive for an investment manager and our clients. We consider such “progress” to be a positive indicator of long-term investment success. In our experience, the managers with some of the most impressive long-term track records have shown a willingness to progress or evolve. They have exhibited cognitive flexibility in the face of new information and/or market conditions.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed many positive examples of managers evolving their investment strategy and process. One such manager had historically avoided investing in the energy sector but through bottom-up research began to observe stronger capital allocation and fundamentals from a select number of energy companies. This manager subsequently grew its energy exposure to nearly a quarter of its portfolio, to the benefit of its investors.

Other examples relate to learnings from prior portfolio management decisions. We have seen managers suffer losses in large positions and decide to reduce their maximum position size going forward. We’ve also seen managers with more diversified portfolios choose to concentrate into their highest-conviction names. While there is no one right or wrong way when it comes to investing, we look for managers with a learning mindset, acquiring lessons from past experiences and evolving their process to better suit their strategy, goals, and temperament.

One might ask, “How do you know if the change is good or bad?” When we witness a change to a manager’s team, investment process, portfolio management, or investment strategy, we always begin in the same place – open dialogue with that manager. Maintaining close and longstanding relationships with managers allows us to observe what are often subtle changes over time and to discuss those changes to understand the “why” and thought process behind the evolution. We analyze the thinking and reasoning behind these changes and ensure they are occurring for sound reasons that we believe will improve the fund’s prospects for long-term success.

We insist that our managers share key elements of our investment philosophy:

  • A value orientation
  • A disciplined and patient style of investing
  • A focus on capital preservation and growth
  • A deep understanding of the underlying investments
  • A long time horizon

To us, a value-oriented investment philosophy implies seeking to invest in securities at a discount to reasonable estimates of intrinsic value.3 We believe that limiting the risk of permanent capital loss is a prerequisite for growing it, and one of the ways in which that can be achieved is through investing with a margin of safety.4 In our opinion, managers that perform deep fundamental research and know what they own are more likely to have strong long-term returns. In public equity markets, our focus on identifying managers with a deep understanding of the companies they own generally results in partnering with groups that run a concentrated portfolio of best ideas.

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages any investor can have is a stable investor base that allows for a long time horizon. Effectively executing a value-oriented strategy often requires time for the fundamental performance of the underlying asset to be reflected in the price. We also recognize that a long-term orientation leads to better tax treatment and lower transaction costs, particularly benefiting our taxable clients. In our experience, managers with a short-term orientation are likely to “follow the crowd” to not underperform over any monthly or quarterly time period, often at the expense of strong long-term absolute and relative returns. A long time horizon also affords our managers the time to deeply research and follow companies through cycles, providing them with a deep understanding of their investments that other market participants may not share.

Finally, we insist that managers can articulate a clear, identifiable competitive advantage as part of their investment philosophy. They must have an understandable, sustainable reason why they believe they may be able to generate strong performance over a long period of time.

A manager’s investment process involves how the firm sources, researches, and evaluates potential investments and how investment decisions are made. Like many of the other Ps, there is no one correct process, but it must be understandable, thoughtful, and repeatable. We look for investment managers who have designed a process that encourages deep due diligence, independent thought, deliberate assessments of pros and cons, consideration for known and unknown risks, informed debate, and the prudent use of external resources and references.

To evaluate a manager’s process, we review the entire portfolio, aiming to understand what led to each investment’s place in the portfolio. We perform a deep dive on the holdings, determining how each investment was sourced and evaluated. We also walk through the manager’s quantitative models to review the underlying assumptions behind each investment. Equally important is talking through investments that did not make it into the portfolio or that had been in the portfolio but have since been removed. We also work to gain insight into a manager’s process and how it may have evolved over time by reading all of the manager’s historical letters and material.

When we meet with portfolio managers and conduct in-depth reviews of their investments, we are not trying to second-guess their security analysis. Rather, we are evaluating whether there is a repeatable framework around the investment process, as this allows us to gain comfort that managers will remain successful in the future.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to portfolio management, but a manager’s process must be thoughtful and focused on maximizing the risk and return objectives of the investment strategy. Portfolio management differs based on a manager’s strategy, but conversations often begin with a discussion of position sizing, the number of positions, sector and geographic exposures, and the use of leverage. Deep research on each underlying investment is critical, but we also look for managers to consider how the sum of the parts fits together. It is important that we review whether a manager has a thorough approach to portfolio construction, along with the intended and unintended exposures, as thoughtful portfolio managers consider how the individual investments fit together.

A manager’s performance is determined by security selection as well as position sizing. We work to understand a manager’s approach to sizing positions, gauging if it is appropriate for the strategy. Within position sizing, we discuss guidelines around maximum position sizes at both cost and market, when managers add to a position, how they think about trimming positions, and how positions are sized both on their way in and out of a portfolio.

At a high level, a manager may evaluate both sector and geographic exposure. However, by only looking at these broad measurements, one may miss exposures that could pose unintended risk to the portfolio. We delve into how managers think about and evaluate their underlying exposures to macro risks such as inflation, rising interest rates, political risks, and more, in addition to headline sector, geographic, market capitalization, and asset class exposures. Many managers employ systems that allow them to stress test their portfolios and analyze how they might react in different scenarios. We review those systems to determine how they are used and their potential impact on portfolio construction over time.

When we invest with a manager, we seek to create a partnership where both parties can enjoy mutual success and are aligned with client outcomes. Thus, we tend to partner with owner-operated, employee-owned investment boutiques where the manager is investing alongside us.

The first component of partnership that we look to is a firm’s ownership structure. Generally, we seek to partner with organizations where the investment principals and key decision-makers have a large ownership stake in the firm. We have found that firms with this structure tend to have a client- or investor-first mentality. Outside ownership can sometimes create incentives to focus on assets under management (AUM) growth instead of long-term investment performance.

We also look to incentive structures to assess if firms are focused on long-term performance, which is aligned with our clients, or AUM growth, which tends not to be aligned with client success. Put simply, the incentive structures should properly align with clients’ interests. We dive deeply into a firm’s compensation structure to ensure the team is incentivized to focus on long-term results. We also probe to see if a firm’s economics are broadly shared among the team. Structures where owners take the vast majority of a firm’s gains without sharing them with the rest of the organization are destined to have difficulties attracting and retaining strong talent. In addition, we tend to invest with managers that compensate their teams based on overall portfolio performance rather than solely based on individual profits, which can create adverse incentives. Fee structures are also an important partnership consideration. We look for structures that are thoughtfully designed and are reasonable in light of the strategy and resources needed to operate the firm effectively. At BBH, we seek to generate attractive after-fee (and after-tax) results, and therefore seek to partner with firms that have fee structures conducive to that goal.

In addition, we look for managers who “eat their own cooking” – that is, who are invested alongside our clients. We expect the key decision-makers of any firm to have much of their liquid net worth invested in the strategies they lead. If they are not invested in their own strategies at size, we do not think our clients should be either. There are several academic studies that provide evidence of the importance of managers investing in their own strategies. For instance, an Alternative Investment Management Association Journal article, “How Some Hedge Fund Characteristics Impact Performance,” found that managers who invest their own capital in their funds tend to outperform.5 And in a recent National Bureau of Economics research paper, Skin or Skim? Inside Investment and Hedge Fund Performance,the authors found that “funds with more inside investment outperform other funds within the same family.” In these cases, the firms made the appropriate “managerial decisions to invest capital in their least-scalable strategies and restrict the entry of new outsider capital into these funds.”6 To us, this evidences the power of incentives. When investment managers have a significant amount of their own net worth invested in a particular strategy, they have extra incentive to constrain the growth of assets, which is likely dilutive to long-term performance.

When meeting with prospective investment managers, we like to see that managers have conducted due diligence on us, just as we are conducting due diligence on them. This is yet another sign that a manager is not just looking for capital, but for a true long-term partnership. In the beginning of our relationships with many of our fund managers, we noticed that they proactively read many of our past publications on our investment philosophy, such as “What We Believe: BBH’s Principles of Investing,” to get to know us better. These managers also conduct extensive references on our team members and firm. This not only signals that they are thorough, but also increases the likelihood of true partnership.

Finally, we also look to invest in managers who have like-minded limited partners. We are encouraged when an investment manager has attracted other investors who are long-term-oriented, exhibit patience, and have conducted deep research to understand what makes that particular manager special. This diligence is what gives allocators the conviction to stay invested during inevitable (short-term) periods of underperformance. Being invested alongside investors who do not approach partnership in the same manner often creates distractions for the investment manager, taking time away from the investment research process when it is most critical. We appreciate when investment managers seek a true partnership with their investors, choosing relationships with limited partners on the basis of the value they can bring outside of just capital. We believe great clients make for great investors; therefore, we aim to be the best client to each of our managers, as well as to ensure that those who are invested alongside us think in ways that will enhance the investment manager’s probability of long-term investment success.

We use “principles” as a shorthand for considerations that can not only improve a manager’s workforce and workplace, but also have the potential to make a broader societal impact.   

We believe that our investment philosophy, which incorporates a long-term orientation, a belief in active management, a focus on capital preservation, and an approach based on bottom-up fundamental research, leads us toward managers who invest in high-quality companies. As we have long stated, we believe that thoughtfully and judiciously evaluating environmental, social, and governance factors as part of a robust investment research process can help investors effectively assess the long-term sustainability and durability of the underlying investments. We have found that well-managed, durable businesses – which are found across all sectors – are more likely to manage resources efficiently, create value for shareholders, and help protect investors over the long term. As a result, all of our managers consider environmental, social, and governance risk factors in their investment approach.7

We also monitor how investment managers approach the recruitment and retention of talent. Research suggests that having diversity of thought and experiences enhances discussions and decision-making processes, which is critical for long-term sustainable investment success. We recognize that it also has the potential to create additional societal benefit. Therefore, we spend time to understand if, and how, our prospective and existing managers have sought diverse talent when hiring. We have found that managers who spend time thinking about adding resources with different experiences and perspectives tend to be just as thoughtful when making investment decisions.

We analyze past performance of our prospective and existing managers in a detailed manner, but past performance in isolation is not predictive of future performance.We instead focus on analyzing past performance to be able to ask more informed questions about a manager’s decision-making and process improvements over time. To a large extent, we see performance as an outcome of the other variables.

We have found that great managers tend to focus more on process than outcomes, which in this case is performance. If the process and approach make sense, the results will come. We are careful about over-extrapolating a period of difficult performance to imply manager deficiency. Based on an article by Warren Buffett, V. Eugene Shahan wrote a famous article, “Are Short-Term Performance and Value Investing Mutually Exclusive?”9 Shahan analyzed the performance of seven legendary investors, including Buffett and Charlie Munger. Over long time periods, each investor outperformed his benchmark by 8% to 17% annualized, which is impressive. However, these same investors underperformed the market between 8% and 42% during some of the years, and the worst three-year period of each manager (on a relative cumulative basis) ranged from -4% to -49%. Therefore, if one had selected some of the best investment managers of that time period, one of the managers may have underperformed its benchmark by 49% over three years. That same manager, over a 19-year period, generated excess returns of 16% vs. its benchmark. This example provides support for using past performance wisely.

Our team is focused on finding great managers, and even the best managers in the world may go through difficult periods. Managers who have recently outperformed often hold more expensive securities, while those who have recently underperformed tend to hold cheaper assets, creating risks to investors who fire an underperforming manager and replace it with a top-performing manager. In their 2015 paper, “Timing Poorly: A Guide to Generating Poor Returns While Investing in Successful Strategies,” Jason Hsu, Brett W. Myers, and Ryan Whitby reported that the average mutual fund investor earns 2% less than the mutual funds in which she invests, likely a result of market timing.10 In the past, we have hired managers that had recent returns that looked average on the surface, but we understood the reasons for the underperformance and had conviction in their process and approach. Thus far, these decisions have been vindicated.

Within this category of performance, we are most focused on assessing the likelihood of long-term investment success, which we define as having conviction that a strategy’s returns will meet our expectations. To do so, we spend a significant amount of time understanding the key drivers of go-forward returns and the risks that may affect those drivers. These drivers often link back to the underlying investment philosophy and strategy. For example, managers with a tighter valuation discipline recently underperformed more growth-oriented managers for a number of years. Maintaining a deep understanding of a manager’s investment strategy and portfolio allows us to maintain conviction when it is out of favor. We also look at historical performance attribution over time, seeing if strong performance has been broad-based across investments or if only a select number of investments have driven fund performance. In a Journal of Performance Measurement article, “Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should,” Dan DiBartolomeo considered performance attribution to be the process of disentangling component portions of the observed returns to draw conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of the investment process.11 If a manager has a higher hit rate, or more broad-based performance attribution, it is more likely that the process is indeed repeatable.


Utilizing the 10 Ps, we seek to identify managers whose people, passion, perspective, (willingness to) progress or evolve, philosophy, process, portfolio management, partnership, principles, and performance should lead to fruitful investments for our clients. This framework for manager evaluation is not a simple checklist and is not formulaic. Rather, the 10 Ps provide a holistic, repeatable framework for evaluating managers and their long-term prospects for partnership. As much as we look for certain characteristics in our investment managers, we also work to exhibit a growth mindset and humility, constantly improving and refining our manager evaluation process. Indeed, we look forward to updating and improving our own approach over time.

Reach out to our Investment Research Group to learn more about our third-party investment managers and how we work with them to grow and preserve clients’ capital.

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The Economy, Markets, and Investments at Midyear 2023

BBH Partners and Co-Chief Investment Officers Suzanne Brenner and Justin Reed and Chief Investment Strategist Scott Clemons recently discussed the current economic environment, market volatility, and positioning for the future. Here, we review key takeaways from the conversation.

Goleman, Daniel. “What Makes a Leader?” Harvard Business Review, January 2004. https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader.
2“Motivation as the Hidden Variable of Performance.” CFA Institute, 2016. https://www.cfainstitute.org/-/media/documents/survey/motivation-as-the-hidden-variable-of-performance.pdf.
3 Intrinsic value is an estimate of the present value of the cash that a business can generate over its remaining life.
A margin of safety exists when we believe there is a discount to intrinsic value at the time of purchase.
De Souza, Clifford, and Suleyman Gokcan. “How Some Hedge Fund Characteristics Impact Performance.” AIMA Journal. September 2003.
6 Gupta, Arpit, and Kunal Sachdeva. “Skin or Skim? Inside Investment and Hedge Fund Performance.” National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2019. https://www.nber.org/papers/w26113.
7A less favorable ESG profile may not preclude a manager from investing in a company, as the consideration of ESG factors is not more influential than the consideration of other investment criteria.
This, too, is a principle, not a rule. Our analysis, as well as various academic studies, suggest that there is persistence of returns within some privates asset classes, such as venture capital.
Shahan, V. Eugene. “Are Short-Term Performance and Value Investing Mutually Exclusive?”
10 Hsu, Jason, Brett W. Myers, and Ryan Whitby. “Timing Poorly: A Guide to Generating Poor Returns While Investing in Successful Strategies.” Research Affiliates, January 2016. https://www.researchaffiliates.com/publications/journal-papers/206_timing_poorly_a_guide_to_generating_poor_returns_while_investing_in_successful_strategies .
11 diBartolomeo, Dan. “Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should.” TSG, January 8, 2015. https://tsgperformance.com/product/just-can-doesnt-mean/.

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