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Rating:Seen & Heard: ICI GMM 2014 Not Rated 0.0 Email Routing List Email & Route  Print Print
Friday, May 23, 2014

Seen & Heard: ICI GMM 2014

Reported by Tommy Fernandez

The industry's elite drank, caroused, made serious deals and chatted about the future of the industry this week at the ICI's 2014 General Member Meeting held at the Washington Hilton.

Well over a thousand attendees witnessed sessions by many of the industry's best and brightest, including C-suite executives from many of the industry's major firms. A full list of the content can eb found here.

The exhibit hall featured over 50 booths of varying sizes and levels of extravagance. There were the usual selection of food stations, numerous bars and conference entertainment. For example on Tuesday, there was the GMM Fourth Annual Capital Chef Classic. On Wednesday was featured a very charmer juggler and performer with one of the tallest unicycles ever witnessed by MFWire editorial staff (we like our unicycles). The press room featured cookies the size of hubcaps (we have a deep abiding respect for giant baked goods.)

Tuesday: Big Themes and Billiards
Tuesday's sessions included opening remarks from CSIM president and CEO Marie Chandoha and then an address by ICI president and CEO Paul Schott Stevens.

During his address, as well as throughout the conference, the voluble Stevens repeatedly thundered on the ongoing debate of whether asset managers should be designated by the Financial Stability Oversight Committee as "systemically important financial institutions (SIFI)," which would open the industry to a slew of banking-like regulations. Such designations, and regulations, are not appropriate for the industry because mutual funds are not subject to the same risk as many other financial institutions, thanks to the '40 Act, Stevens hammered.

After these remarks, Stevens then chatted with BlackRock chairman and CEO Larry Fink, who explained much of the early history of the company, and his early career ("I was the youngest managing director [at First Boston] at age 28, member of the executive committee at 31, and a jerk at 34."].

Fink declared risk management as a cornerstone, and an opportunity, for BlackRock, during a time when many traders and managers worked with products of which they had little understanding.

One of the major themes of his conversation was the need for investors and financial professionals to focus on outcomes, and not products. The investing community needs to pay more attention to the long-term and not on fleeting market distractions.

Fink also talked about the FSOC, which he felt communicated with the public by leaking to the press, as well as the reasons behind BlackRock's three successful acquisitions (in short, a willingness to change corporate culture to reflect the best of both merging companies), and of the virtues of fly-fishing.

Explaining that he used flies with no barbs (all his barbs were limited to his office, he explained), he had to concentrate deeply on such factors as wind, water speed and fish movements. The beauty of such an engrossing activity was that it forced him to forget everything else from the day. A moment of enforced peace, apparently.

Tuesday evening, fund execs and exhibitors hosted a number of lavish dinner events around the city. Many then finished the evening at a pool-blazed and alcohol and quesadilla-fueled evening at Buffalo Billiards, hosted by neil Bathon's FUSE Research Network. Easily a hundred or more people caroused and exhibited a wide spectrum of billiard-related skill-sets during the evening.

Wednesday: One Brit and Four American Rockers
Wednesday's lunch featured three little entree plates: one of roast beef; one with salmon and the third with chicken and thin noodles. The dessert was an assertive fruit tart.

The featured speaker for this meal was the Right Honorable Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, who chatted with Vanguard chairman and CEO Bill McNabb on a variety of subjects, including evolving relations between the U.S. and Great Britain and various peace initiatives across the country.

Blair is a big believer in the power of education to prevent future global tensions, arguing that if children are taught to be more understanding and open-minded than previous generations, they might be able to avoid the mistakes of their parents. Hear Hear.

During the affable and engaging conversation, we learned from McNabb that this year's ICI CEO's Dinner (yes, it does exist) featured a biographer of former PM Margaret Thatcher. We also learned that during the early days of the Financial Crisis, British subjects were a little bemused by much of the American mishegas. For example, as Blair drove to an airport to fly off to the U.S., one Brit asked him "Who are these brothers?" (as in the Brothers Lehman).

We also learned of the power of personal connections in politics and negotiations. For example, when Blair was attending a series of meetings in 1999 related to the peace negotiations between Britain and Ireland, one of the Irish negotiators had asked Blair, whose wife was pregnant with his son, what he had planned to name him. Blair said that he planned to name the child after his father, Leo.

During a subsequent meeting, Blair encountered the Irish representative, sporting a fantastic tan. When asked, the representative had said that it was thanks to Blair.

You see, after the representative learned about the planned name for the son, he went to a bookmaker and bet 1000 pounds on the subject. The winnings financed a vacation in an exotic climate.

Wednesday's dinner started off with a salad of assorted roasted beets, followed by a steak entree, which was then topped off by a kirsch mouse dome dessert with candied cherries and meringue.

Attendees then drank and danced to the explosive honky tonk of the The Million Dollar Quartet, featuring bluesy, and unabashedly gyrating renditions of songs by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. The performers frequently joined the audience in hoofing it, cutting the rug and otherwise tripping the light fantastic.

Thursday: Regulators and the Future of the Industry
Thursday's breakfast session, consisting of little quiches and some grilled vegetables, featured SEC Chair Mary Jo White in a discussion with Stevens on a variety of subjects, including ongoing frustrations to build up the agency's budget and enforcement resources and the FSOC's deliberations on whether certain asset managers should be regulated as systemically important financial institutions. White, who is one of the officials sitting on the FSOC, said she couldn't reveal any of the details of these deliberations, but was understood the industry's concerns about the subject. She encouraged fundsters to be vocal with the agency and the rest of the government with these and other concerns.

The final session featured a chat between Chandoha and former Maine Republican senator Olympia Snowe on the challenges, including extreme partisanship, and possibilities of moving U.S. fiscal policy forward,.

Attendees, many with their wheeled suitcases in tow, then finished their conference experience at a brunch featuring huge mountains of cold cuts and salads to choose from, as well as omelets prepared to order right in front of you. Deserts include bread pudding and tiny crepes filled with ricotta confections and topped with blueberry.

The 2015 GMM is scheduled for May 6 to 8 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. 

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