It's Not a Sprint

In more than one sense, Jim Hansberger is a marathoner. The CEO of The Hansberger Group (a wealth management unit of Smith Barney) has run nine of the 26.2-mile races, and, at 58, continues to log 35 miles a week. Further, he has made it a life goal to run the Peachtree Road Race, the largest 10K in the world, when he's 100. That long-looking, self-reliant streak extends to his professional life and

In more than one sense, Jim Hansberger is a marathoner.

The CEO of The Hansberger Group (a wealth management unit of Smith Barney) has run nine of the 26.2-mile races, and, at 58, continues to log 35 miles a week. Further, he has made it a life goal to run the Peachtree Road Race, the largest 10K in the world, when he's 100.

That long-looking, self-reliant streak extends to his professional life and in many ways informs his company's approach to the management of its client portfolios. Perhaps its most obvious manifestation is Hansberger's faith in his company's research and analysis.

“Often the yardsticks for measuring business are based on conventionally accepted wisdom that may be incorrect,” he says. By contrast, Hansberger Group's investment advice tends to focus on companies with solid fundamentals — those that will deliver the best returns in the long-term.

“A good business is a good business, despite what the market may be doing…We want to own great businesses,” he says.

A typical portfolio in an account with Hansberger contains 20 to 25 companies spread over a variety of growth areas. The group tends to avoid debt-accruing sectors, such as energy. “I'm looking for growth at a reasonable value,” says Hansberger.

In the same breath, though, he'll tell you that he dislikes being labeled, and that he does not fear the volatility of smaller companies. “I like to think I'm style-agnostic,” he says, “because we focus on the business, whether it's small or large cap.”

At its core, Atlanta-based Hansberger Group consists of a five-person wealth management team. Hansberger's son is the portfolio manager and also handles much of the client contact and new business development. Then there's a CPA, who focuses on estate financial planning, hedging and risk management; a research and trading specialist; an alternative investment specialist; and “a very busy administrative assistant.” (Hansberger himself is the senior member in the group and managing director of investments at Smith Barney.)

Working intimately with this team are two financial consultants, five regional specialists and 10 New York affiliates.

Together these professionals are charged with scoring “10s” in three specific categories: “10 percent average appreciation on the year for each client, 10 percent new assets for existing clients and 10 percent new client assets,” he says.

With approximately $2 billion in assets under management, Hansberger has convinced more than a few investors of his firm's ability to meet those goals. The company's typical clients are time-starved professionals — entrepreneurs, corporate executives or private business owners — who want personal attention for their investments. For this reason, Hansberger places a premium on his employees' relationship management skills — frequent phone calls and client meetings are essential components of the group's personalized service.

Hansberger's investment career dates back to 1969, when Merrill Lynch hired him straight out of college. Despite his youth — at 23, Hansberger says he was the youngest investment manager the firm had ever hired to that point — he had some experience in managing investments. In college Hansberger headed an investment club that he credits with generating the income he needed to pay for the schooling.

Three years later, he joined Loeb Rhodes as a senior portfolio manager, helping to run its institutional arm amid the political turmoil of Vietnam and the oil embargo. The experience with such a pessimistic marketplace taught Hansberger to appreciate the fundamentals of researching and pursuing strongly grounded investments.

“There was a tremendous amount of negativity among investors, and the economy was in a condition of near-permanent inflation,” he says, recalling the 21 percent CD from that period that he has framed and hung on his office wall. “A steady diet of BLTs could've helped everyone,” Hansberger adds, referring to the courage and foresight of (Warren) Buffett, (Peter) Lynch and (Sir John) Templeton, men who challenged investing conventions.

It was during this period that Hansberger learned to apply the principal of balance to his personal life. His commitment to work had consumed him, and he realized the need to pay more attention to all five “Fs”: faith, family, friendship, finance and fitness. He started paying more attention to his health, and it was at this time that he started running — a lot.

“In that first year, I lost 20 pounds,” he says, noting that his regimen included 30 to 40 miles per week, plus weight lifting. He did nine marathons in the 14 years leading up to 1990, and at his peak, he ran the Boston Marathon in under three hours.

Also around this time, he took some time out for motivational speaking and a stint as a self-help author. An audio version of his book, Nice Guys Finish Rich (Nightingale-Conant, $39.95), is now used as part of Smith Barney's training of new investment professionals, Hansberger says.

The commitment to balance is something that drives the way he approaches clients. “If we've done our job well, it should end up being a symbiotic relationship,” Hansberger says.

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