Over a smoko* break with our investment analyst intern Richard Wootton, we learnt about his internship experience at JB Equity in Edinburgh.
Describe your role at JB Equity.
My role mainly consists of doing fundamental research for several different projects. For example, my first task was helping complete the pitchbook for a project where JB Equity is helping a meat producer expand its production in East Africa. Coming from Kenya, I found this a great starting point as I was already familiar with most of the East African markets and I knew some of the key competitors, so naturally I started doing a competitor analysis of other key pork producers in the region. I also helped assess how this project, especially through the distribution of long life meat products, can have a positive impact on local African communities. In particular, such products relieve pressure on fragile eco-systems by reducing communities’ reliance on pursing protein through unsustainable and illegal channels such as overfishing and wild bush meat trades. These trades, which are often propped up by illegal poaching, are decimating local wildlife populations and key food sources, which if destroyed will create huge food insecurity issues in the region. This in return applies significant pressure on already vulnerable political systems which can potentially cause a cycle of significant socioeconomic unrest across the region.
What was your undergraduate qualifications and where did you study?
After deciding to go against the family tradition of studying engineering, I successfully applied to read History at Durham University. I specialised in Colonial History with a particular focus on the 13 colonies and the Caribbean in North America which also lead me to study a lot on the sugar, tobacco, rice and slave trades. I then focused on post-colonial African history, particularly in East Africa where I wrote my dissertation on the transfer of power from the British government to the Kenyan government in 1963.
How did you find out about JB Equity?
As I was looking to work at a small finance firm, I decided to walk around Edinburgh one Sunday taking notes of all the small company names on doors in the city centre. I then researched these names online and this is when I found out JB Equity was involved in agriculture in emerging markets, which was a double hit for me. So I emailed in and luckily got called in for an interview and that led to my three-month internship.
What interests you about the investment industry?
Growing up in a family business and watching it grow over time, I’ve always been interested in business in general. Despite not studying economics at school I continued to read financial journals and newspapers trying to get an understanding of various sectors with a focus on investing. I then progressed on to reading several biographies and autobiographies of individuals who have been successful in businesses, which I believe is what really got me interested in the investment industry. Since then I’ve always been attracted to the idea of allocating capital to areas of opportunity. Furthermore, my history studies, together with the summer internships I did between university years, increasingly gave me a better understanding of macroeconomics. My focus on agriculture and commodities came from an internship I did with Ebullio Capital Management where I focused on cocoa, sugar and platinum trading. Here I studied the fundamentals of each community and really got a grasp on how supply and demand drives the global economy through cycles. I have since viewed the agricultural space as having huge potential upside as an investment class in the future, as supply in many regions struggles to keep up with demand which pushes prices up slowly over a steady period of time, especially in emerging markets.
Describe your typical day at JB Equity.
In the morning, the first thing I do is check and reply to my emails. I then sit down with the project coordinator to discuss what work we need to do for that specific project. We also have a meeting with the whole office every Monday morning to understand where all the projects are at and what the priorities are. I can then either be involved in research, analysis or marketing for several projects depending on where that specific project is at. I also spend a fair bit of time on the phone with our various partners around the world discussing what needs to be done for their projects. More recently I have been doing a lot of marketing of projects which involves targeting and calling up potential investors for our projects.
What sort of projects are you working on?
I am currently working on our Salmon project in Denmark where our clients are looking for growth capital to expand their current production to become the biggest land-based salmon producer in Europe. This is quite an exciting project because it is heavily dependent on ‘Recirculating Aquaculture Systems’ (RAS) which are a relatively new technology to be commercialised. RAS essentially enables salmon producers to produce whole salmon on land in tanks where water is pumped through several tanks which forces the salmon to swim against a current. This produces a better tasting salmon that has 10 per cent less fat content than traditionally-farmed sea-based salmon, making it ideal for high-end consumers. This also enables the producer to benefit from a price premium of around 15 per cent relative to traditionally-farmed salmon. Furthermore, RAS recycles 99 per cent of the water used, it prevents the spread of sea lice, significantly reduces feed costs and waste, and it guarantees that no fish can escape and interbreed with wild populations. Hence, the project is unique in that it produces a better tasting product that sells for a premium, while also reducing key op-ex costs.
Is there a particular highlight so far during your internship?
The whole internship has been a highlight if I’m honest. My experience here has really showed me how the whole ‘fund’ world operates and how different investment themes, such as social impact investing, evolve in certain geographies. It has also highlighted to me how global the world has really become especially regarding the increasing ease in which capital flows around the globe.
How would you describe the ‘vibe’ at JB Equity?
The vibe at JB Equity is relatively easy-going. As long as you take responsibility and get your work done you can really enjoy yourself. The good-natured banter in the office also definitely creates a fun environment among the team. The office is very open and you have the ability to focus your work and on what you are interested in, as well as expand out into more unknown fields. You can also freely ask the partners their opinions and have a chat with them about almost anything. The office is also very diverse – I work with people from Africa, India, Britain, Australia, The Netherlands, Denmark, America and Spain, so you get quite a worldly experience right in the middle of Edinburgh. After work drinks are also great, especially on a Friday where the partners mix with the interns and investment team, and more than often shout us few drinks!
What are your medium to long-term career aspirations?
I would like to get a bit more experience in the UK or Europe, but I believe I will move back to Africa more permanently in the long term. I want to continue in the investment industry with a focus on agribusiness in Africa. However, I think this enables you to expand into several other areas simultaneously whether its eco/agro tourism, wildlife management/conservation as well as commodity trading/logistics and retail/marketing. I believe Africa has huge potential considering the high grain prices, relatively cheap land, expanding middles class, and that Africa is estimated to hold one third of the world’s resources! I also think it’s an extremely free, fun and adventurous place which can provide a great experience for young people in business. This is no doubt partly-created by the fact that it also has significant risks especially regarding corruption and politics, which force a business in Africa to take into account several different aspects other than financial numbers, management and industry innovation – you are also required to have good understanding of local history in order to be ‘ahead of the curve’ and form a vision that can lead you to obtain sustainable profits. Anyhow, what is life without risk?
*Smoko: a colloquial Australian term used for ‘tea break’.
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