When Chris Page founded Laurus Investment Counsel Inc. in early 2014, many of his peers thought he was naive given the growing challenges facing the investment management business. With industry consolidation rampant, changing investor preferences – moving away from public markets and into alternative investments like private equity, infrastructure, and real estate – and an increasingly complex regulatory environment, launching a new firm was considered a challenge.
“I was seen as bucking the trend,” says Page, who founded Toronto-based Laurus after more than 40 years working in the industry. “A lot of senior people in the business said to me, ‘The last thing Canada needs is another investment firm.’ My reaction was, ‘What Canada needs is another good investment management firm.’”
It appears he was right. As an institutional investment firm, over the past five years Laurus has grown to over $700-million in assets under management. Assets have increased by 50 per cent over the past 12 months alone, measured to June 30. And while the firm was founded with a focus on small and medium-sized Canadian stocks, it has since broadened its investment strategies to include U.S. and global securities.
He credits a good chunk of the company’s success to his business partners Linda Lebrun, the firm’s chief investment officer, and Dennis Starritt, its senior vice-president. “My partners have two of the premier investment minds in Canada,” Page says. “You can’t build a business on anything better.”
Lebrun notes their investment process provides differentiation to other firms, including its focus on investing in high-quality companies for the long-term. That said, Starritt adds, “We can only be successful if our culture and principles are aligned with our process”.
“We get to understand the company business model and know management very well,” Lebrun says. “We like to invest in great businesses and hold them for many years. Great businesses reinvest their internal capital at high returns. You know that, down the road, it’s going to be worth more than it is today.”
Starritt points to the company’s position in Premium Brands Holdings Corp. The specialty food company’s shares have increased by about 300 per cent over the past five years, as of the end of the second quarter of 2019. And when the stock dropped in late 2018, the Laurus team purchased more at the lower price. The team felt confident, based on its deep understanding of the Premium Brands business, that the stock would continue to increase over the long-term and produce a substantial return for investors.
“Investor expectations are a huge challenge to our industry,” says Lebrun. “Company results are continually being measured against shorter time periods. Investing is really about long-term capital allocation and not about what the next quarter will bring.”
Page notes the Laurus team endeavours to provide an excellent client experience, approaching each relationship with a partnership mentality which includes complete transparency and strong communication when markets are both up and down.
“We’re so pleased that our existing clients continue to give us more capital,” Page says. “They believe in us. Our relationships continue to get stronger.”
The investment team is clearly passionate about investing but “one of the best parts of building this business is watching our people grow, both professionally and personally,” Mr. Page says. “I have been very fortunate to have Linda and Dennis as my partners, but we have a tremendous group of professionals all dedicated to improving themselves and improving our clients experience. That will make us very successful over the long term.”
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