Simon Lim is CEO of ZICO Asset Management. If his past performances in business, banking and developing one of Singapore’s most successful groups in the F&B industry is anything to go by then indications for the future of ZICO Asset Management and its clients look positive.
You created one of Singapore’s most popular group of bars and restaurants in the 1990s and 2000s. What’s the story behind that?
Sometimes doors open when you are standing still. A pub owner needed help with his business. I eventually took over the pub and expanded the business to 19 cafes, clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants. I had a lot of fun and the experiences those 15 years were the best I’ve ever had.
Then you upped and left for famed culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. What happened?
I was at a fair when the opportunity to attend culinary school in a strange land with a strange language, and learn a strange cuisine presented itself. I was planning a sabbatical and saw this as a far superior alternative to sitting on a beach. I was there for only 6 months. I still had bills to pay and a business to run.
What’s your most memorable experience there?
The head chef found my sauce too peppery, branded me “un terroriste” and threw my sauce out the window.
Fast forward to 2017. You were appointed CEO of ZICO Asset Management. Tell us about your role at ZICO before this?
ZICOam was a start-up when I joined, and there was only one other employee. Before that I was with UBS Singapore. ZICO Holdings, the parent company, gave me a chance not just to advance my advisory career, but to build an entire enterprise around it. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
How has ZICOam changed and grown since you took on its leadership role?
We grew from pretty much nothing to 3 business lines, and an amazing team of 17 people who work very well with each other.
How do you see the firm progressing in the next 5 years?
I’ll be happy if the company can build its business on the 3 tenets that I have set from day one. To perform ethically, sustainably, and profitably.
You advise clients from family offices to individuals. How do you manage their various expectations?
Just like the hospitality industry, what I do is still very people-oriented. I tailor not just the solutions to specific needs of a person or family, but the delivery of that solution has to be done differently.
You have initiated a number of new funds and new strategies. What are they?
We have the ZICO Alpha Returns Fund which paid 40% net of fees in the last 2 years, and looks good going forward. I’ll be launching a whisky fund based on very good experience from a managed account which I co-funded with a client in 2020.
What’s your strategy to achieve a larger investor base?
Deliver real value sustainably, and the investors will have the confidence to invest with us. So quite simple really.
India offers numerous investment opportunities. Are there certain sectors that ZICO is focusing on?
I intend to study the local investment landscape in greater detail. In the next 10 years, infrastructure and real estate look exciting.
Personally, what’s been your best and worse investments?
My best investments are in myself. I’m always open to learning and experiencing new things like my stint at Le Cordon Bleu.
My financial investments have always been based on common sense. I bought Apple at 20USD when they released the iPod which I thought was paradigm shifting. It was obvious to me that a smart phone would come next.
Worse? There are plenty, much more than the wins. Most of my failed investments are because I followed the crowd. I lost money on Nikola which was touted to be the next Tesla.
What’s in your personal investment portfolio, and does it include alternative investments?
I have shifted away from the stock markets because I feel that they’ve become a game of guess-what-the-central-bankers-would-do. I’ve a few index funds. But most of my money are in co-investments with my clients in the alternative, private equity, and private debt space.
What challenges have you set for yourself before you reach retirement?
I hope not to retire, but to right size my involvement in investments based on my age, energy and attention span.