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Report On Business Rotman students receive crash course in the Brandes way

The Rotman School of Management building.

Tom Arban

Raeid Saqur found himself bitten by the value investing bug while studying at the University of Toronto.

The MBA candidate, who came to Canada from Bangladesh in 2004 and has worked as an engineering consultant with International Business Machines Corporation, now plans to marry his love of finance with his other passion – technology.

Mr. Saqur was one of a group of 50 students from a value investing course offered by the Rotman School of Management who travelled to San Diego for a one-day immersion in bottom-up stock selection from Brandes Investment Partners, the highly respected value-oriented buy-side firm founded by billionaire Charles Brandes. The bottom-up approach prioritizes fundamental analysis, especially deep dives into a company's financial statements, to find stocks whose sustainable earnings power is well above their current price.

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"A couple years ago, I would have never imagined being here, learning from one of the most famous value investors," said Mr. Saqur, who studied applied mathematics and computer engineering as an undergrad, and selected Rotman over a number of top-flight U.S. business schools, including Stanford University. Upon graduation, he wants to start his own business that straddles both finance and technology.

The classes at Rotman are taught by Eric Kirzner, who developed the "Easy Chair" passive portfolio and has written numerous textbooks and articles on investing, and Maureen Stapleton, who has more than 25 years of experience in the industry, most recently as the executive director of fixed income management at UBS Global Asset Management.

Mr. Kirzner hailed the experience of listening to Mr. Brandes as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Since the inception of the value investing course 12 years ago, MBA students have travelled and met experts in the field, including Warren Buffett. This was the second consecutive year the group visited Mr. Brandes's firm in San Diego.

Wall Street might seem a more natural place to take students to learn from top-level investing professionals than the suburbs of San Diego. However, the slower pace of life in the southwestern California city reflects the methodical approach taken by value investors like billionaire Charles Brandes.

Mr. Brandes was schooled in the art of value investing by the architect of the field, Benjamin Graham. He and his staff of directors, portfolio managers, and analysts took the time to give the students a thorough overview of its philosophy and current strategies – the way a buy-side firm would do for large institutional and potential clients.

For the students, the shoe was on the other foot: In the classroom, they're the ones pitching stocks to a panel of value investors who help determine any adjustments to the roughly $1.4-million real-life portfolio run by the class. John Watson, president and portfolio manager of Toronto-based Fairbank Investment Management Ltd., is an alumnus of Rotman who donated the principal of $1-million for the fund in 2006 and covers the expenses for the trips. The students also manage a separate portfolio for which selections are made on their own, following exhaustive discussions of a given stock.

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The Rotman students also had the chance to speak with research analysts and portfolio managers in small groups to get a better sense of sought-after skills in the industry and day-to-day responsibilities.

"Brandes Investment Partners put together a great day of interactive learning," MBA student Jocelyn Luk said. "We truly appreciate all the insights they provided us on value investing and what it's like to work in the industry."

It is, however, a gross mischaracterization to refer to this group merely as "students," as many are already accomplished professionals. All of them share a passion for value investing and the rigorous, company-specific research it requires.

Take Alan Wood, who invented a glass that filters out UV rays and prevents beer from developing a "skunky" taste after coming into contact with the sun. In 2014, he co-founded a company, BRU-V, which sells the amber pint glasses for $15 apiece.

Mr. Wood's father, John, won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics, and founded many successful investment firms. The last book his father gave him before his death, Alan said, was Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor, which Charles Brandes calls the greatest investing book of all time.

While there are several entrepreneurial-minded students in the group, most are likely to end up working on Bay Street. A number already have positions lined up at Canada's big five banks, spanning a variety of roles from investment banking to trading.

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