Recently our CIO Peter van Rooyen and one of our senior researchers Laura van der Ham were interviewed by ‘Informatie Professional‘, a Dutch magazine and platform for information professionals. In the interview they discuss the importance of research and researchers within Dasym.
At Dasym Investment Strategies in Naarden, information, knowledge, and research are the common thread throughout its activities.
Chief investment officer Peter van Rooyen and senior researcher Laura van der Ham talk about the importance of a generalist’s perspective, historical parallels, and data visualizations. ‘The work of information professionals is firmly embedded in everything we do around here.’
While the outside of Dasym Investment Strategies’ premises in Naarden exudes the history of this old fortified city, the inside makes a modern and organized impression. As we will see later, the past and the present also permeate the activities of the company. A few periodicals semi-nonchalantly grace a table in the reception area: Fast Company (‘Most Innovative Companies 2015’), Scenario Magazine (‘A briefing on trends, visions, ideas and possible futures’), and an issue of Fonds.nl (‘Andere geluiden’). The focus of this ‘investment boutique’, which invests in international listed and unlisted companies as well as establishes its own companies and projects, is clear.
peter van rooyen, responsible for investments in listed companies:
‘All activities are guided by our “theme”: the digitization of daily life. In doing so, we look for new technologies and the extent to which consumers adapt their behavior to those technologies. We namely invest in companies that benefit from the changes in consumer behavior.’
Naarden itself is a good example of changed human behavior. Van Rooyen: ‘Once upon a time, only shepherds and their flocks wandered around in Gooi. But the arrival of the car brought people who also settled there. While people originally often lived close to their work, the new means of transport allowed them to reside farther away.’ New technologies, e.g. the mobile telephone, make sure that the consumer is able to spend his or her time, money, and energy otherwise and this results in opportunities for companies. ‘Certain industries will exploit those opportunities and expand, while others will potentially disappear,’ says Van Rooyen. ‘The Internet and the mobile telephone has caused us to enter a new phase that is comparable to e.g. the arrival of the car.’
‘At the formation of Dasym in 2000, it soon became clear that information and knowledge would have to be the “key”,’ says Van Rooyen. ‘Even though we were not familiar with the specialization of information professionals, we did realize that there is no lack of information, but that it is rather challenging to find the proper information. Over the last fifteen years, the work of information professionals – which we call “research” – has become firmly embedded in everything we do here. The first employee Dasym hired was a researcher [an information professional, ed.]. The latter in turn recruited Laura van der Ham in 2009.’
‘My function at Dasym is an extension of my previous job as a researcher at KPMG,’ says Laura van der Ham, who has completed a study program in Information and Data Management (IDM) and Information studies. At Dasym, I am able to make an even broader use of the knowledge and skills in market research, telecommunications, media, and entertainment I acquired at KPMG.’
Van der Ham: ‘An assignment often starts with an idea. Peter says: “I believe that this technology will become important. How so, how does it work? Can you find something that will help me to substantiate my assumption? Or something that in fact asserts the opposite?”‘ In her first year, Van der Ham was tasked with identifying the cost of having fibre-optic cable installed up to the front door. ‘Fibre-optic networks are being rolled out everywhere nowadays: fibre to the home. But how is the price determined? And what investments are involved? Finding the answers to those questions has been an enormous puzzle. ‘It took me one entire month,’ says Van der Ham. ‘But it was worth it. We do occasionally still draw on that research.’
While the ‘search and find’ aspect of her IDM study program might be the foundation for Van der Ham’s work, most of her work’s value resides in the analysis of the information and in placing the relevant developments in a context. ‘In many companies, the information professional often functions as an intermediary – in part due to the history of the librarian. People come to you with questions, which you generally answer with: ‘Here, you have a book or a report that contains the answer,’ says Van der Ham.
At Dasym, the employees of Research immediately try to assist in finding the answer to the question and to give an advice if possible. ‘When I write a report, I discuss this with Peter: is this how it is, how does this work, how should I perceive this? How do you perceive the developments? Naturally, you assist the departments, but you are a much more equivalent discussion partner than is the case in many other companies.’
The findings must be presented briefly, succinctly, in an appealing way, and largely in English. Various courses have aided Van der Ham in properly structuring her own documents, in giving them a clear title, and in telling a factual story in a manner that captivates the reader. The latter is important as attention spans are increasingly shortening, says Van Rooyen.
While Van der Ham herself, together with a colleague from Research, primarily focuses ‘on the text’, two other colleagues namely focus on visuals: how to make appealing infographics on the basis of the data found.
Researchers at Dasym are used as broadly as possible. ‘It is not: because you have once looked at this, you will have to keep doing that forever,’ emphasizes Van Rooyen. ‘That might have been possible five to ten years ago, but there is so much disruption coming from unanticipated directions, that a generalist view across the industries is required. At Dasym, researchers are generalists.’
Laura van der ham, head research:
‘I myself have always learned much by looking at various industries, at various topics, even throughout history, because the lessons learned from one industry can be applied in other industries.’
‘I myself have always learned much by looking at various industries, at various topics, even throughout history, because the lessons learned from one industry can be applied in other industries.’For example, that perspective resulted in the past in a successful telecommunication fund in Brazil. Van Rooyen: ‘That success was largely owed to the many parallels we drew between this and other telecommunication markets: this is what will be happening in Brazil and we have seen already what impact this has had elsewhere.’
‘Establishing historical parallels with other industries, with other countries, is becoming increasingly important for the field of Research,’ believes Van Rooyen. ‘In addition, I believe that the “data” element is gaining importance. Soon, we will be able to ask researchers to analyze databases with all sorts of data sets. I suspect that those are the two significant movements in the field. Creating data visualizations is also a part of that, as it must increasingly frequently be possible to consume information in a single overview.’
Van Rooyen himself derives much information from the brokerage industry, originating from banks such as ING, ABN Amro, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. ‘However, that information is financially driven. Laura and her colleagues use atypical sources to find information and knowledge that are not so evident to us, let alone that we would be able to review and analyze them in a consistent manner.’
Naturally, Van der Ham consults the standard sources of an information professional, such as Factiva, LexisNexis, and databases of Bureau Van Dijk. ‘We also have access to the reports of analysts and make use of market research and other e-market reports. However, professional journals and blogs are our most important sources: Think about TechCunch, PandoDaily, The Verge: they are entirely at the beginning of all sorts of innovations,’ says Van der Ham.
Van Rooyen himself praises the ‘friendly priced, insanely interesting reports’ of e.g. the World Bank and OESO. ‘Or consider the publications of OFCOM, the English regulator of telecoms and media; those reports are a goldmine for us.’
The knowledge furthermore originates from the heads of experts and scientists linked to Dasym. ‘For a report, I can e.g. base myself to a large extent on an interview with one of those scientists,’ says Van der Ham.
Knowledge-sharing also takes place via monthly lunch sessions. Van der Ham: ‘During such sessions, we from the Research department will then talk about a report that we wrote; think about e.g. online video or making payments with your mobile. Peter recently talked about the Internet of things, a beautiful example in which scientists, market knowledge, and financial knowledge are brought together.’ The lunches are accessible to everyone in the company, from the secretaries and the investment managers to the employees of the Finance department and the HR department.
Each working day, the team of Research and of Listed (the employees that perform analyses for listed shares) start the day with a ‘morning meeting’.
peter van rooyen:
‘Together, we review the business sector news and macro-economic news. The purpose behind this is to continuously activate prior knowledge: is there someone who knows something that is relevant to topic X? All together, you know more: the wisdom of the crowd.’
‘For instance, we received a news report this morning about American listed companies, such as 2U, that focus on university study programs,’ says Van Rooyen. ‘One of the researchers – a colleague of Laura – is extremely knowledgeable about education. At this meeting, she told us what she thought about this news report. This was followed by a discussion and we assessed whether this entailed opportunities for us. In this manner, I always try to ensure that alertness becomes everyone’s second nature.’
‘The team of Research has experienced an enormous evolution, but that does not mean that the function of a researcher is to be an end point at Dasym,’ says Van Rooyen. ‘I can imagine that a researcher would go on to Communication, Investment Relations or Marketing after a while. In that case, the Research department becomes some sort of a training program for functions that are information-intensive and analytically intensive. Research is the common thread throughout our company.’
Ronald de Nijs is the editor-in-chief of IP.