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Pick your moments to be contrarian – with Nics Wetherill and Sophie Montagne

As our podcast guests Nics Wetherill and Sophie Montagne demonstrate, it is possible to challenge received wisdom even when preparing for a polar expedition – you just have to pick you moments

19/03/2020

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Research Analyst, Equity Value

Value investors are natural contrarians – frankly, if a key part of your job involves being prepared to buy when the rest of the market is fearful and sell when it is greedy, you have to be. That does not mean you have to be contrarian all of the time, however – rather, you use analysis and judgement, process and experience to pick your moments. In two recent guests of The Value Perspective podcast, we sensed a pair of kindred spirits.

Major Nics Wetherill and Lance Sergeant Sophie Montagne were part of the Ice Maiden expedition, which saw six serving members of the British Army and Army Reserve become the first all-female team to ski coast-to-coast across Antarctica by muscle power alone, covering 1,000 miles in the space of just a couple of months in late 2017 and early 2018.

Our conversation revealed instances where Wetherill, who initially came up with the idea for the expedition, and her team were willing to challenge conventional wisdom – though, again, they picked their moments. It was not a case of being contrarian for the sake of it – nobody was suggesting, for example, it might be clever to make the trek in flip-flops – but of testing ideas such as how best to assemble the best team for the task.

Having expected maybe 50 or so women to respond to their initial call for volunteers from across the army, the organisers of the expedition ended up receiving more than five times as many applications. “I have no doubt all of them could physically cross Antarctica,” says Wetherill. “But it was about picking the right team and we set out to build it from a slightly different perspective.

“For us, it wasn’t about trying to fill a role and so looking to find a person who had specific skills or experience. Instead, it was just about giving everybody an opportunity – so we were very vague about what we were looking for. The process was going to last more than two years so that meant we could really get to know everyone – they didn’t have to try and fit into a mould or look to impress us.”

Offering her take from the other side of the process, Montagne adds: “Certainly for us, as the team, we had no idea what they were looking for and that is quite a disorientating place to be. There was no job description, no clear set of skills you were supposed to show – but, of course, what we didn’t necessarily realise at the time was this was all deliberately set up to make us be authentic and be ourselves.”

As it turns out, says Wetherill, three qualities were seen as paramount. “We were looking for commitment to the expedition,” she explains. “Also, we were not necessarily looking for those who were the fastest or strongest but for women who just did not give up. Most importantly, we were looking for women who, rather than doing it for personal gain, put the team as a whole first.”

Over the course of the two years, the 250 were whittled down to 50, to 20, to 12 and then to the final six – at which point the company charged with transporting them to the Antarctic explained its planes could only fit five people and their kit. “That was not great,” says Wetherill. “We knew losing one person would make the team significantly weaker and could make things very difficult so we tried everything to see if we could take all six.”  

Challenging conventional wisdom in this way eventually revealed conventional wisdom had factored in the weight of men rather than women so all six of the Ice Maidens were able to travel. “This was always about giving as many women as possible an opportunity to take part,” says Wetherill. “Increasing the number, as safely as possible, meant everybody could get something out of it – and in fact we ended up breaking the record for the largest team to cross Antarctica.”

Author

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Research Analyst, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in January 2017 as a member of the Global Value Investment team. Prior to joining Schroders I worked for the Global Emerging Markets value and income funds at Pictet Asset Management with responsibility over different sectors, among those Consumer, Telecoms and Utilities. Before joining Pictet I was a member of the Customs Solution Group at HOLT Credit Suisse.  

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