Meet Connor Browne and Rob MacDonald, co-portfolio managers of City Different Investments’ focused domestic equity strategies. After developing a friendship and strong mutual respect for each other as colleagues at Thornburg Investment Management, the two reunited when Rob joined the team at City Different, an independent asset management firm where investment managers are given the creativity and freedom to pursue their best ideas.
But Connor and Rob are more than just investment managers. They are people: fathers, husbands, community volunteers, youth sports coaches, and much more. Below, we offer an insiders’ view of these two individuals, including personal interests and experiences that influence how they approach life and work.
Meet Connor Browne.
Connor believes there are similarities between life and investing: He brings lessons he’s learned from the companies he researches, colleagues, family, and community to the culture and clients of City Different.
Read on to learn more about Connor.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career path?
I’ve had a number of positive influences, starting with my parents. They’re caring, kind, and generous people who instilled these same values in me. When I was growing up, my mom was a social worker and my dad was a retired Roman Catholic priest with his own RIA business. He was incredibly successful, due in part to the fact that he’s a great listener. He also acquired one or two small businesses every year – a part of his practice that I was always both interested in and fascinated by.
My experience as an intern at Thornburg also helped chart the course for my career. I loved it – so much so that, after graduation, I declined job offers from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase in New York City. Instead, I took the leap and accepted a fulltime offer from Thornburg in Santa Fe, where I’ve been ever since. I’m grateful to have discovered something I love to do and am good at so early in life.
Santa Fe is best known as a center for arts and culture – not finance and investment. What’s the appeal?
For me, initially, it was the job at Thornburg. But a big advantage of working in Santa Fe is that it’s far from the noise of Wall Street. A lot of analysts and portfolio managers that work on Wall Street are sector specialists who attend the same meetings. Because they are receiving the same information in those meetings, many of those specialists walk out of the meetings with the same conclusions. As generalists, we at City Different are able to think independently and creatively about investment opportunities. We believe being further away from Wall Street, where it’s quieter and we can put our heads down and focus on making decisions we think will be rewarded over the long term, is just a better way to work.
On a personal note, life feels more manageable in a small town. Travel time to work, our kids’ schools and their sports practices is roughly five minutes. Plus, Santa Fe is a great town to live in if you enjoy the outdoors. (It’s in the shadows of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and boasts an average of 325 days of sunshine annually, making it possible to hike and bike year-round.)
I’ve always thought the sky looks bigger in Santa Fe than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s pretty awesome.
What are some of your passions outside of work?
My wife and I are passionate about giving back to our community through our support of not-for-profit organizations. I currently serve as board chair for a local non-profit called Reading Quest, which offers literacy-focused tutoring and summer programs to grade schoolers. When I come across an organization like Reading Question -- led by amazing people doing great work -- I want to support them in a way that allows them to be as awesome as they possibly can. Reading Quest is particularly special to my wife and to me because it’s how we met our adoptive son, who, at the time, was a teenager and volunteering with Reading Quest.
What books currently are on your bedside table?
Full transparency: I’m the board chair of a literacy focused organization yet I read all of my books on Audible!
My favorite books are written about companies that are current or prospective investments. For example, No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings & Erin Meyer. The culture Netflix built not only helped our research work and investment in the company, but it also created some of the foundation for the culture we’re building at City Different.
I also enjoy reading biographies of people who have built and managed successful businesses, such as Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and former Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger. In many cases, I’m able to apply learnings from these leaders to what we’re doing at City Different and to the businesses we’re researching for our strategies. I’ve recently read a few books by entrepreneurs, including The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, which is about launching startups and has some interesting insight that can be applied to building City Different.
I also enjoy fiction and just re-read Lord of the Flies by William Golding. It’s one of the books on my eighth grade daughter’s required reading list for school. Reading in parallel with her creates opportunities for us to have good conversations about the book.
What have been some of your greatest adventures so far?
Founding and managing City Different Investments. That’s not to say it’s the most important thing to me. The most important – and also most adventurous -- is being a good husband and father. But right now, a lot of my time and energy is invested in building City Different into a business that feels good to clients, customers, and employees. Friends and family have backed the business, which makes it even more important that we succeed.
Outside of work, I’m mostly chasing my kids around, which is an adventure in itself. In addition to our 21-year-old son, my wife and I have four daughters between the ages of three and 14. I’m wildly biased, but all of our kids are kind, caring, smart, driven and fun.
Meet Rob MacDonald.
Rob believes people go the extra mile for those who they genuinely like. It’s a philosophy he applies to both his personal and professional life and part of what inspired him to join his former Thornburg colleagues and friends at City Different, where employees enjoy each other as much as they enjoy their work.
Read on to learn more about what makes Rob tick.
What do you enjoy doing most when you aren’t studying financial models or monitoring stock screens?
I like learning new things. I grew up playing hockey (Rob was an NCAA Division III hockey player at Amherst College), but now my kids are playing soccer. It’s such a cool game, with some similarities to hockey, but also some unique qualities. Both hockey and soccer have offsides – the rules are slightly confusing in hockey – but soccer takes it to another level of complexity.
Northern New Mexico has great mountain trails, so mountain biking is another relatively new endeavor for me. I learn something new every day. Much like the stock market, biking keeps you humble. Just when you think you have it figured out, once you lose focus, you quickly find yourself off the bike on the ground or in the bushes.
If you hadn’t chosen asset management as a career, what work would you be doing now?
I’d be an evolutionary biologist. Evolution fascinates me – this random change, and long periods of trial and error, creates some really amazing outcomes. So simple, but so powerful. Evolution explains so much of who we are and how the world works. It’s a field where we have much more to learn.
Your career path took you from Boston to Santa Fe. What are some of the endearing qualities of living in the Southwest?
Moving to New Mexico 15 years ago, after growing up on the East Coast and spending some time in the Midwest, I found Santa Fe absolutely fascinating. History lessons in school focus on Boston, Philadelphia and the 13 colonies, things east of the Mississippi. New Mexico has such an interesting and complex history – the Spanish marching up from Mexico into New Mexico, the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish, New Mexico becoming part of the U.S. territory. Los Alamos National Laboratory was formed during World War II. Later, artist and hippies moved to Santa Fe, making it one of the major art centers in the U.S.
What book are you currently reading?
I just finished Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop, a book about the founding of the Santa Fe Institute, a research center dedicated to studying complexity. The institute, which was started in 1984 on Canyon Road, just up the street from City Different’s office, brings together scientist from all different disciplines to tackle some the toughest problems in science.
Our approach to investing at City Different shares some similarities to how the Santa Fe Institute approaches science – both involve an open-minded, collaborative approach and sharing knowledge among team members, which is a mix of specialization and breadth.
Do you have a favorite app or device?
I have two favorites. One is the smartphone, which is so pervasive that we often overlook some of its amazing properties and functionality. This is a device that is basically physically attached to our bodies, can instantly answer any question, direct us where to go, shape our social interaction, how we shop and so much more. If you described these properties to me 20 years ago, I would have pictured a world full of cyborgs.
My second favorite app is the public library. While the constant connectedness that the smartphone provides gives us instant access to information and a sense of superhuman functionality, I think, in some ways, it also negatively impacts how we function. When everything is instantly available at our fingertips, it is hard to sit down for hours at a time to learn or read about a new topic. Usually, the value of legacy technologies (like public libraries) declines with time. However, I believe libraries are an exception.
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