Financial Advisor's Bookcase: "Into the Storm"

By Richard Hoe



Into the Storm: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race by Dennis N.T. Perkins and Jillian B. Murphy (AMACOM, 2013)

What does sailing in treacherous waters have in common with investing? Answer: Pretty much everything. In investing, rough waters get the best of lots of the members of the crew and many a ship’s captain, too.

Real sailing is physical, but there may not be as many rough rocks just below the surface, as much dodgy weather or the same number of difficult-to-navigate harbors as there are in the seas of investing. Dennis Perkins lives in Connecticut and is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis; he joined a sailing team for the 2006 race, his preparation for getting in shape to write about the incredibly dangerous 1998 race, in which five yachts sank and six men perished. (If you want to get a glimmer of the dangers of this days-long event and observe the teamwork required, check out the videos).

At first blush, it seems unusual for a former U.S. Marine infantry officer (Annapolis graduates both Naval and Marine officers) to write about the rigors of arguably the toughest ocean-sailing race in the world, but Dr. Perkins is clearly fascinated with teamwork. His March 2012 book, "Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition," proves the obsession.

There are great lessons here, lessons for those of us who work with others, about how the skipper of The AFR Midnight Rambler, Ed Psaltis, and his amateur crew endured and won the race, despite being hit by a “weather bomb” of epic proportions. The Rambler was the smallest craft to win the cup in 10 years.

In the Navy, I spent months at a time in the north Atlantic — some of the roughest water around — and I’ve seen fierce storms, some with waves big enough to toss around a 64,000 ton aircraft carrier like a cork, but one photo of the Rambler in motion on one of the behemoth waves during the race made me wonder how anyone survived the Sydney-to-Hobart race. One skipper, Richard Winning, not “very good at judging the height of waves,” saw one coming. “He wasn’t sure about the size, but it was higher than the boat’s 60-foot mast. The wave was a deadly, vertical cliff of green water.” This particular wave caused serious damage, knocked two men into the sea and ultimately forced the crew to abandon into rafts. And that was only the beginning.

My life is good, and a good part of that is due to my teammates. So, if you need to see why teamwork is a good idea, or, even if you just want to read about a crackling-good adventure, "Into the Storm" is the right book.

And, while this is an epic story with great life lessons, it has plenty of intellectual capital, too, invoking Daniel Kahneman’s Type 1 and Type 2 thinking (Perkins calls the processes “System 1 and System 2”) and Malcolm Gladwell’s rapid cognition from "Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking." Kahneman, a Nobel laureate oft quoted by financial behaviorists, and Gladwell, who seems incapable of writing an uninteresting book, both grace past The Investment Edge columns and blogs.