The worst investment we have ever had was Cable & Wireless, which had built up a large cash pile through the sale of telephone companies in Hong Kong and Australia and their mobile telephone business in the UK. They were well negotiated, judicious sales. What they had left was a stand-alone operation in the Caribbean, which still exists, and they were in the fibre optic business that was blowing cash. So we said, look they’ve got cash, they’ve got a valuable, viable business and let’s assume the fibre optic business is worth zero – it wasn’t, it was worth less than zero, much, much less! Their accounting was flawed to say the least and they became obsessed by a technological dream. In this respect it was reminiscent of Nortel and that should have caused me to think twice.
I talked to John Templeton about it afterwards and he took a worse hit than us. He said “this is why we diversify, if you are right 60% of the time and wrong 40% you’re always going to be a hero, if you are right 40% of the time and wrong 60% you will be a bum.” I think he probably put it more elegantly than that! But there’s one more thing. We had put a huge amount of time and energy into that one and we were willing it to save itself and, on the face of it, it could have. What we needed was a dissenter in the team – a contrarian among contrarians, a lateral thinker watching out for the left field. On that occasion there wasn’t one. So my thought is, if there’s no natural sceptic on an investment maybe it would be wise to appoint one of the team to play Devil’s Advocate anyway.