Asia Pacific  

Interview: Robert Horrocks on Mandarin to Matthews Asia

“While Matthews is a reasonably well-known name in the US, it’s an unknown name [in the UK]. But to get the sort of acceptance that we’ve seen from UK investors, and to start getting seen as somebody who has a unique way of looking at Asia, is very exciting.”

Mr Horrocks admits in the UK it is “always difficult when you’re the new kid on the block as you have to get people to know you, so there’s a lot of working on meeting people and telling a story and trying to reinforce that”. 

But he adds: “I do get this feeling that we speak the same language. Matthews was set up by an Englishman and there’s a certain Englishness about the company and about how we go about investing in Asia. We try to understand it and take long-term strategic views. That way of thinking gels quite well with a significant number of people in the UK. 

“We can share a view of Asia and how we implement our investment philosophy, but we don’t have to explain Asia as it doesn’t seem that foreign to UK investors.”

In contrast, he says one of the biggest challenges was moving from “where nobody questions the validity of Asia” to the US, where he believes people are generally very sceptical and pessimistic on the region, and particularly China. 

“[That’s] definitely been the hardest thing. I do find myself sometimes being defensive, but I try to keep a balanced view of Asia,” the CIO says. 

“We don’t want to be a cheerleader, but sometimes we’re forced to defend it as a region, as a concept and as an economy. There’s this idea that China’s growth has somehow been fake. I spend a lot of time explaining what China used to be like when I lived there as a student in 1987.”

Mr Horrocks says that back then the idea of going to a restaurant for a meal was uncommon. Most people ate in worker canteens, while shopping was limited with most people buying their coats from surplus stores. 

“With the differences that have been wrought in Beijing, you can now see restaurants and coffees shops everywhere, [along with] cinemas, fast food, entertainment and casual bars,” he says. “People dress in very individualistic stylish ways. The idea that this growth is somehow fake is to me an horrendous misconception.”

As a result he notes the macroeconomic environment and focus on Asia can be a double-edged sword. “You find yourself talking a lot about the macro, and the difficult side of that is we’re not a macro house. Everything is geared about finding the right businesses. There are sectors where we have more investments and the same with countries, but that’s because they have more businesses that we like,” he explains.