This fall New College was proud to present its inaugural Alumni Speaker Series, which draws on the impressive and varied stories of our alumni. The series’ genesis lies in the Dinner@NEW program, which began in 2012. Around 16 upper-year students meet with an alumna or alumnus over dinner in an informal setting. Students get to ask alumni about their professional lives and alumni in turn offer insights about their experience since graduation and how they ended up in their particular fields. We then developed Dinner@NEW Plus, an event where New College alumni and students can connect and learn from one another – with the keynote for the event also being a New graduate. The Alumni Speaker Series is the latest iteration of ways to celebrate our alumni’s achievements and keep the New family’s tradition of ongoing connection flourishing.

This inaugural series brought three of our outstanding graduates back to the college to speak on three very different topics: neuroscience (Dr. Dave Hayes), 21st-century China (Ryan Pyle), and how to identify a good investment (Alan Friedman). The events were all well attended, with several alumni and friends making reservations for all three talks – New College folk are enthusiastic lifelong learners, and we are looking forward to presenting more opportunities when the series continues in 2016. Want to recommend a topic? Contact us! alumni.newcollege@utoronto.ca / (416) 978-8273.

 

Speaker Roundup

October 29, 2015 – Dr. Dave Hayes on Why do I need a brain?

Dave HayesNeuroscientist Dr. Dave Hayes (New ‘03) kicked off the series, taking us on a breakneck jaunt through the vagaries of human perception. Dave studies emotional brain circuits in healthy people and those with brain disorders, and his brain- and behaviour-based explorations of pleasant and unpleasant experiences span the fields of neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, neurology and philosophy.

He completed his PhD at the University of Alberta and has worked at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Centre and University of Ottawa, Toronto Western Hospital and University of Toronto, and Addenbrooke’s Hospital and University of Cambridge.

In recent years Dave has also been a mentor to students participating in the New College Mentorship Program.

The audience was thoroughly engaged as Dave demonstrated with several practical examples how our brains govern our perceptions rather than accurately reflecting the world around us.

As the topics swirled, the audience was gripped by the questions being raised. Why does a supremely confident person gain the support of others irrespective of their actual competence? What is the difference between mind and brain? How do we figure out which parts of a particular context are important, when that will vary according to what we are trying to examine?

Rubin vase (from www.semieh.com)

A classic ambiguous figure is the Rubin’s vase that can also be seen as two faces looking at each other. Note that we cannot maintain two interpretations simultaneously, and we slip back and forth between one and the other. (Image from www.semieh.com)

One of New College’s 2015-16 student bloggers, Aparajita Bhandari, attended this thought-provoking evening – take a look at her account. Dave’s website: www.neuroscientist.ca.

 

November 20, 2015 – Ryan Pyle, Bearing Witness: The Photographic Documentation of China’s Rise

Ryan PyleRyan graduated with a degree in international politics in 2001, and realized a long-held ambition to visit China. That 3-month trip turned into a decision to move to China permanently in 2002, where he developed his career as an award-winning photographer and adventurer, moving also into public speaking in addition to working in television as both producer and presenter.

More than a photojournalist, he’s an anthropologist with a camera. His photos have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, Fortune and The Sunday Times Magazine. His work as a documentary producer has aired on the Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, China Travel Channel – and many more. Ryan was the guest of honour at the very first Dinner@NEW Plus event, exactly a year prior to his appearance at the Alumni Speaker Series.

Ryan has been in a unique position to observe the swift and extraordinary changes taking place in China – as he remarked, the country has seen the greatest reduction in poverty in world history. This has, though, taken place alongside a widening gap between rich and poor. Forty-five per cent of the Chinese live on less than $5 per day. There are over a million millionaires (US dollars) in China, but youth unemployment is extremely high. Paradoxes abound: there are many agricultural workers scraping by at subsistence level, their fields spreading out beneath infrastructure improvements like major bridges that reduce travel times to areas previously considered remote.

Large road bridge in China. (Ryan Pyle)

(Photo: Ryan Pyle)

Activism is on the rise, and Internet and cell phone use means people can organize themselves with ease. Ryan was at pains to point out, however, that some 80% of civil unrest is actually about land rights issues, not the desire for western-style democracy. The people don’t want to challenge Party rule: they simply want to be treated fairly and protest is about treatment not demands for radical systemic change. Ryan’s abiding interest is in individual stories. When asked what effect he thought his journalism work has had on Chinese officialdom, Ryan replied that for him it’s always been the stories themselves that intrigue him; he doesn’t imagine they have any power – it’s bearing witness to people’s experiences that draws him.

Read student blogger John Leung’s take on the Ryan Pyle event. Ryan’s website: www.ryanpyle.com.

 

December 1 – Alan Friedman, Outlook for Equity Markets – What Makes a Great Investment?
With guest C. Terry Fisher, CFA

Alan Friedman and Terry Fisher

L-R: Alan Friedman, Terry Fisher

A longtime New College student mentor and past Dinner@NEW speaker, Alan Friedman (New ’76) is a Chartered Investment Manager, a Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute, and head of the Friedman Investment Group. The group is part of CIBC Wood Gundy, the brokerage division of CIBC Wealth Management. Alan is First-Vice President, Portfolio Manager and Investment Advisor. He’s worked as a ski instructor and as a real estate agent. However, after losing some money he’d placed with a friend in the investment business, Alan thought “I can do better than that.” And, taking a look at his many credentials, it is clear that he was absolutely right!

Alan was joined for our event by Terry Fisher, who at one time was one of Alan’s clients, and who appreciated Alan’s values and investment philosophy so much that he joined the Friedman Investment Group himself. Terry was one of the first in Canada to receive the designation of Chartered Financial Analyst and had 30 years’ experience in equity research and corporate finance before deciding to combine his love of research with his desire to work closely with clients.

Alan gave the audience an overview of some of the basic aspects of investment, beginning with four premises:

  1. Compounding is “the royal road to riches”.
  2. Don’t lose money.
  3. Behave like a rich man: don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.
  4. Recognize value (take advantage of volatility, identify ‘maximum pessimism’ (more on the latter below).

Return seekers, Alan noted, must become risk managers – the more you diversify, the less risk you take. He took us through a graph depicting the ups and downs of the market cycle from 1973 to 2014: the takeaway from that was “if you have enough time you’re going to make money”. However, bearing in mind that the vast majority of us don’t have 40 years to see a good return on investments, what should our approach be to choosing where to put our money? This is where careful analysis comes in: investment is not speculation; it is a measured and considered decision that comes from sifting a lot of information. As Alan pointed out, the study of markets is never-ending. One of the most important features to bear in mind is that current valuations affect future returns; and valuation arises from the behaviour of buyers and sellers, which in turn dictates the state of the market at any particular time – so-called “reactive investing”. In examining the top of the curve where the highest prices occur, he quoted Warren Buffett, the most successful investor in the world: “The higher the rate, the greater the downward pull.”

reactive investment market cycle

Reactive investment in a Market Cycle

 

Terry Fisher took a look at what makes an organization a candidate for investment. He identified four factors that must be included in an analysis of their suitability:

  1. Transformational technology: think Apple, Amazon, Netflix… Companies must keep on the ball to survive. As Terry put it, they “must keep moving or die.”
  2. Be a leader in a growth industry. Smart innovation: not too fast, not too slow.
  3. Provide essential/niche products or services: like specializing in diabetes treatments, medical supplies, arms, disposable diapers, coffee shops…
  4. Proprietorship: essentially, good management. Low staff turnover is significant, and is often tied in with an individual’s vision for the organization.

While time constraints meant that the evening was necessarily an “Investment 101” introduction, Alan Friedman and Terry Fisher provided considerable insight into some of the basics behind complex investment decisions.

L-R: Colin Swift (New College Alumni Representative), Terry Fisher, Alan Friedman, Yves Roberge (Principal, New College)

L-R: Colin Swift (New College Alumni Representative), Terry Fisher, Alan Friedman, Yves Roberge (Principal, New College)

 

Remember – we welcome recommendations for topics for the Alumni Speaker Series! Contact us at alumni.newcollege@utoronto.ca / (416) 978-8273.