My WFH Routine: Rami Sidani, head of frontier investments, Schroders
Each week my Morning / WFH Routine looks at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and throws in some business questions just to keep things interesting. Speaking to us this week is Rami Sidani (LinkedIn), head of frontier investments at Schroders in Dubai. Edited excerpts from our conversation:
My name is Rami Sidani, and I’m a fund manager with Schroders Investment Management, the UK-headquartered firm with offices around the world. I’m based in Dubai and we cover the markets that are just a notch under emerging. We invest in exotic places spanning the globe, whether that’s Egypt, Kenya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Philippines — or Argentina, Peru and Columbia.
I wake up at 7am and have breakfast with my family before the kids leave for school and I start following Asian markets. I start early because I invest in Southeast Asia, and they’re ahead of us on the clock. My morning is usually devoted to followups and trades and staying up-to-date on news and developments in Asia, with Vietnam and the Philippines being the largest markets in that geography.
We have three kids now. Nazih, 5, and, Malek, 3, were joined by Serena on 20 May 2020 — she’s six months old now. I melt every time she smiles.
At 8:05am Dubai time, I get Enterprise. Egypt is a big market for us, but I read Enterprise because I just love the comprehensiveness of it. The global updates are all there, and I often find myself following links to topics like the US elections or about some interesting idea you’ve incorporated and sometimes I need to control it. The idea is that I need to be in the office by 9am so that I’m ready for the GCC market open at 10am.
We’re partially WFH and partially in the office. I live just three minutes from the office and we’re well spaced out. We’re a small team in Dubai and most of the group is back in London, so we were really good with virtual meetings and the like before covid hit.
My day is busy — there are just so many countries where I need to stay abreast of current affairs because our returns can to a large extent be dictated by local developments. So it’s lots of news, lots of conference calls with people on the ground. A lot of time with analysts and, most importantly, with the teams at the companies in which we invest.
Business travel isn’t dead. Not when you consider how important good company management is to our decisions. We’re long-term investors in public equities and we’ve been here a long time, so we’ve got strong ties with management teams built through years of in-person meetings. The length of these relationships gives us comfort, but I really want to jump on a plane again.
I miss Cairo and hope it’s one of my first trips when the world normalizes. We visit Cairo 2-3 times a year. It’s the largest market for us in the region and has really interesting long-run prospects. It’s also a lot of fun and has a very special energy.
2021 is going to be the year for Egypt. We think the stars are aligned in terms of lower rates (the lowest in a decade) that will spur investment and accelerate credit growth. We’re going to see tourism pick up as the world normalizes. The Grand Egyptian Museum’s opening will be a big milestone and the major revamp of the Pyramids plateau that you’ve been writing about will pave the way for a strong recovery in tourism. We also see Egypt reaping the fruits of all of the investment the government has been doing to connect cities and build out infrastructure.
Egypt is a massive market — 100 mn people and very favorable demographics. The economy is relatively very nascent and the penetration rates speak to the potential.
Financial inclusion is low by any measure — from the ratio of credit to GDP, to private sector loans, to cash usage in the economy to, of course, the size of the parallel economy, which could be as big as the official economy. Egypt can easily accelerate growth from 5-6% to 7-8% if it attracts more foreign direct investment, and the government is doing a solid job with pro-business reforms.
Egypt is a structural growth story with years ahead of it given the low base, how uninvested it is. The float of the EGP in 2016 paved the way for sustainable growth. So we’re really constructive on Egypt, which stands out as one of the very few places that has grown despite covid.
Are I afraid the robots will take my job? Not today, but it’s hard to have a five-year view on this given how fast technology is evolving. My wife and I worry what it means for our kids. But on the job, Schroders has given us phenomenal access to new tools, particularly when it comes to data analytics, which we’ve been introducing as a central pillar in our investment process. The use of technology will only increase from here — we know the direction of travel. The early adopters are the ones who will emerge stronger tomorrow.
My organizational system is … organized chaos. My day speeds by quickly, so I need to stay really organized just to keep up with my responsibilities. I’m very different in my personal life — I don’t book personal trips in advance and I’m late for dinners with friends. But at work, I’m organized and it’s about planning way, way ahead. Working for a UK firm pushed me further in that direction — it was culture shock. I mean, I’m Lebanese and I live in MENA, but in the UK you get a Christmas party menu to choose from in August. “Yeah, I think I’ll feel like having the duck in December.”
Asset management is a lifestyle, whether it's travel or reading the FT and the Economist on the weekend. But Friday and Saturday are precious — sacred, really. We won’t do anything that doesn’t involve our kids. It’s about sports and lunches and the beach. Evenings are for seeing friends who we consider an extended family.
My wife and I like to unwind with a good television series before lights out. We try to limit it to a single episode a day, but we’ll binge on the right show. We watched Succession during lockdown and we’re waiting for season three now.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given has nothing to do with investing, and that’s how important it is to really listen. It’s a lesson my father taught me and one I’m trying to cement with my kids. Understanding how important it is to listen changes your perspective. The ability to really listen to different views and opinions and learn from people’s experiences is an art.