This month marks my 30-year anniversary with Templeton Emerging Markets Group! The opportunity to open up new emerging markets, learn about new industries, meet wonderful people around the world and most of all be part of the Templeton emerging-markets family has been a real blessing.

This anniversary had me thinking about the many ways the world—and emerging markets—have changed over the past three decades. I am known around the world as a pioneer in the world of emerging-market investing, going places many tourists and investors alike often fear to tread. As such, I have been given some colorful nicknames over the years, including “The Indiana Jones of Emerging-Market Investing,” which I actually find flattering.

Templeton Emerging Markets Group

Templeton Emerging Markets Group

That said, I am not a lone-wolf type action hero. I have had the support and great pleasure of working with a large team over the years and wouldn’t have achieved the success I have had without them. So much has happened over the past 30 years within the markets and our team, including the recent change of Stephen Dover taking over my CIO responsibilities of Templeton Emerging Markets Group in 2016. Even though Stephen has taken on the day-to-day management of the team, I continue to serve as executive chairman and enjoy my work exploring and sharing my views on emerging markets on behalf of Franklin Templeton. I have no plans to stop!

I grew up in New York, and when I first graduated from college and went out in search of work, I contacted alumni who I hoped might help me find a professional job. I didn’t directly ask them for a job, but rather, for their advice on how to build a career. They were all gracious and their words still resonate with me. One consultant I visited had a plaque on his desk that I will never forget. It explained the success of his very prosperous firm. It said: “There is no limit to how far you can go as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.” In a succinct and eloquent way it conveyed the most elemental truth: Your success depends on the success of other people around you, and by helping them succeed you also succeed.

Meeting My Mentor: Sir John Templeton

In the 1970s and early ’80s, I had been working as an analyst and broker in Asia and traveled periodically to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the legendary investor Sir John Templeton was based. During one of my presentations to the Templeton portfolio teams, he and I first became acquainted. One day he approached me to lead his new emerging-markets team and manage a new emerging-markets fund he was starting. The investment potential of developing markets had been recognized for a long time, but the actual birth and classification of emerging markets as an investment category in a more formal or recognized way probably could be tied to an event in 1986. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank subsidiary, engaged in a campaign to encourage capital market developments in the less-developed countries, which had often been given unflattering designations such as “third-world” nations. At that point in time, a handful of institutional investors invested US$50 million in an emerging-markets strategy at the behest of the World Bank’s IFC. A year later, in 1987, MSCI developed its first emerging-markets indexes.1

In 1987, while working for Templeton, our fund became the first of its kind to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, opening the world of emerging markets to mainstream investors. Back then, we had only a handful of markets to invest in. Today, the team, known as Templeton Emerging Markets Group, operates as part of Franklin Templeton Investments and we invest in more than 60 countries around the globe.

When we started managing emerging-market portfolios, it was a difficult time to invest in many respects. Although there were many emerging-market countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe that looked exciting to us, very few of them were actually open to foreign investment. There were strict foreign exchange controls and limitations, in addition to a plethora of problems with market liquidity, corporate governance and safekeeping of securities.

We were there at the start of many exciting developments, which included the opening of many markets to wider foreign investment. In the past 30 years, we’ve also seen the end of apartheid in South Africa, easier access to eastern European economies (including Russia), the opening up of India to foreign investment and, of course, China’s embrace of capitalism and rapid urbanization. Today we can invest in a wide variety of emerging markets around the world, as well as a host of “frontier markets,” a designation given to the lesser-developed subsector of emerging markets, which includes the majority of the African continent. We are very excited about the potential for these frontier countries in the next 30 years, as many are growing at a rapid pace and quickly assimilating the latest technological advancements, particularly in mobile finance and e-commerce. Generally, more youthful and growing populations mean consumer power has been on the rise, with a growing middle class.

Keep Asking “Why?”

In my investment career, I’ve found that you need to keep on asking the question: “Why?” Why is that person doing what he is doing? Why is that company making those decisions? What is behind them? By asking such questions, I’ve been able to miss a lot of possible disasters. Asking questions can be uncomfortable, but pioneers in any field have to get used to stepping outside the comfort zone. While the markets have changed quite a bit since I first met the late Sir John, our core investment philosophy remains true to his enduring approach. Sir John made his foray into Japan in the 1950s, which at the time, was considered a poor and developing country. He bravely invested there and other places in the world where others were not. He taught me many things, but one thing that I have certainly embodied is his message that if you want to be successful, you need to keep an open mind and step outside your comfort zone.

I’ve developed a firm belief in getting out on the road and seeing the countries and companies we invest in first-hand, which has me on the road 250+ days a year. Racking up over 30 million miles of flight time hasn’t been easy, but it’s extremely fulfilling.

The Templeton emerging-markets investment team has grown from just a handful of portfolio managers and analysts many years ago to more than 50 today, and we have expanded our on-the-ground presence from just one research office in Hong Kong (opened in 1987) to 20 offices in locations including Asia and the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. These days, I typically travel with my Franklin Templeton colleagues who have local expertise in a particular market to gain additional insights. It is truly a collaborative effort at every stage—we continually challenge each other and ask lots of questions of government officials as well as company executives and management. We like to visit not only corporate headquarters, but factories and the like where production occurs so we can see the conditions

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