Maya Peterson graduates from high school at the end of summer. She’s also the author of two books: “Early Bird: The Power of Investing Young” — which she wrote when she was just 13 years old — and “Lighthouse: Women Leading the Way in Finance,” which published in April.
To call her precocious may be an understatement: Peterson started investing when she was just 9 years old. At 10, most kids just want to play video games; instead, Peterson attended Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders’ meeting to hear Warren Buffett speak and meet personal heroes like Lauren Templeton, the founder and president of Templeton & Phillips Capital Management. Templeton is one of the 20 women featured in “Lighthouse.”
Peterson researches every investment she makes, from the company’s financials to its competitive position in the marketplace and the state of its industry. “Investing is simple to understand: You put in your work, try to understand the business, and do your best to pick stocks; however, the world is unpredictable, and things do not always go as planned,” she writes in “Lighthouse.”
“Over the past seven years, I have developed an investing mindset of patience, frugality, nerdiness, humility and discipline.”
In August, I interviewed Peterson about why she’s fascinated by women in finance and what she values in an investment. The transcript that follows has been edited for brevity and flow.
BD: As an investor, how do you view the banking sector?
MP: I stick to investing in what I know, so I started out buying [The] Procter & Gamble [Co.] and Johnson & Johnson. The big banks are complicated for outside investors, and I try to keep it simple. For smaller banks, I think new investors have a better chance to be able to analyze them, but there is still a lot of banking jargon to wade through. Overall, seeing how banks adapt to accommodate their customers over the long haul, the quality of their loans and how they serve their community is something that I look for. I find this much easier to see in smaller banks.
BD: You spent time with Robert and Patrick Gaughen of Hingham Institution for Savings, who explained to you how they built their bank. You own shares in Hingham. What did you learn from them?
MP: The biggest key to Hingham’s success has been its culture. They are really customer focused, and they do not overcomplicate their business model with growth for growth’s sake. Their loan quality over many years shows a clear focus on risk quality. There was a quote in [their] 2014 Annual Report, where Robert Gaughen summed it up as, “Balance sheet growth at Hingham must be safe and it must be profitable, in that order.”
[Editor’s Note: Bank Director also spoke with the Gaughens for our report on the Six Tenets of Extraordinary Banks.]
BD: You’re an experienced investor, particularly given your age. What do you value when you look at a company?
MP: I value social responsibility. I invest for the long haul, so the companies I am a shareholder of are ones I think will be around and successful in 20 years. These businesses realize that it is their future too. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that capitalism is a short-term game, but most great businesses are built by long-term thinkers. Our thinking has to grow beyond thoughts of, “What is cheapest now?”
[Investor] Jeremy Grantham said [at a 2018 MorningStar conference] that, “Capitalism also has a severe problem with the very long term … anything that happens to a corporation over 25 years out doesn’t [exist for] them. Therefore, grandchildren, I like to say, have no value. … We deforest the land, we degrade our soils, we pollute and overuse our water, and treat air like an open sewer. [We do it] all off balance sheet and off the income statement.”
Investing works over the long run, whether that is competitive advantage, fair prices or good management, and social responsibility is a long-term mindset as well. It focuses on how the business benefits society through diversity within the workplace, their environmental impact and so on.
[Socially responsible investing] brings these two long-term perspectives together.
BD: I decorated my room as a teenager with rock band posters, but you write in the introduction to “Lighthouse” that you wallpapered your room with the photos of 58 female CFOs to inspire you. As a young woman, why does finance appeal to you? Based on what you’ve learned, what are your thoughts now about possibly entering a male-dominated field?
MP: Hearing stories about Lauren Templeton’s childhood full of investing, I was excited to become a young shareholder, too. Those stories launched me into researching and discovering other women in investing and in finance, which was where I began seeking out stories of female CFOs. I think similar to other kids’ posters, these women were larger-than-life figures that taught me the importance of drive. They became my daily reminders to keep learning and asking questions. Once I ventured into investing, I saw the limitless potential to learn, and that is what made finance [appealing] to me. If I ran out of questions, then I couldn’t be thinking hard enough.
As a young woman, investing gave me the opportunity to make adult decisions at a young age without being judged by my age or gender. I had control over something in a way I had not yet had at such a young age. Investing felt like my window into the real, adult world.
BD: Finally, you’re in school now, but you’re obviously thinking ahead about your career. You come from a unique perspective compared to your peers, in that you really dug into companies and what makes them tick. And a lot of companies struggle to attract younger, skilled talent. With that in mind, what do you hope to see from a future employer?
MP: Emphasis on community. Right now, it is so critical that those who can give are giving to others in many ways. To me, this means having coworkers and employees that represent the customers they are serving, incentivizing and encouraging donating and volunteer work, companies allocating money to give to a good cause and being socially responsible from the inside out.
I think employers who want to attract the younger generation should have a longer-term outlook and ideas on how to make a positive impact on the future. There is no one size fits all — it is different for different types of businesses — but working to make a difference definitely matters in attracting younger employees.