Vikram Mansharamani

Vikram Mansharamani - Economy and Finance  speaker


About Vikram Mansharamani -Global Trend-Watcher And Lecturer, Harvard And Yale Universities Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst
Vikram Mansharamani
first gained widespread attention with his book Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst. Since then he’s gone on to show business leaders and investors how to look at the world differently in order to manage risk and navigate radical uncertainty. His strategies help them peer into the future on crucial areas like China, food, the global economy, Africa, housing, investing, financial cycles, energy, and much more. So valuable are his insights that LinkedIn named Vikram #1 on their 10 Top Voices in Money & Finance for 2015 and 2016.

He believes that the future doesn’t have to surprise us – and won’t – if we regularly step away from our expertise and look at the world through multiple lenses. He calls this the generalist’s mindset. When encountering information that seems irrelevant most people think, “So what?!” Generalists think instead, “Isn’t that interesting,” and look to connect disparate dots. When they do, the conclusions they draw and decisions they make may be very different from the more narrow-focused “experts.” Vikram shows audiences practical ways to use this approach to spot opportunities and reduce risk.

Vikram is Lecturer at Yale University where he taught three popular classes: “Investment Management”, “Financial Booms and Busts” and “Adventures in Business Ethics.” He is also Lecturer at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences where he is co-teaching a course called “Humanity and Its Challenges.” His current research interests include bubbles in both financial and non-financial markets, the unsustainable dynamics of food and fuel, and the relative value of experts vs. generalists in navigating complex uncertainties and risk.

Vikram is a global equity investor with more than 20 years’ experience investing in public and private markets. He served as Managing Director of SDK Capital (and its predecessors).

Vikram is currently regular contributor to Worth magazine and a columnist for the PBS NewsHour. He has also contributed to Bloomberg, MarketWatch, CNBC, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Yale Global, The South China Morning Post, The Korea Times, The Khaleej Times, and The Daily Beast, among others. He contributed the summary chapter for the book A Force for Good (2015) synthesizing lessons drawn from the collection of essays written by the world’s most prominent thinkers on the role of finance and capitalism in today’s increasingly interconnected and unequal world.

Vikram is a frequently sought-after speaker by a wide range of organizations.  And while corporations from virtually every industry have sought his insights, he continues to have a very strong following in the investment community.  He regularly speaks with those focused on allocating large pools of capital. Audiences of sovereign wealth funds, family offices, endowments, foundations, and registered investment advisors have found tremendous value in his unconventional thinking.

As a consultant he helps clients analyze the business impact of global trends, with a particular emphasis on economic, political, and social risks that might generate instability. He conducts many executive education seminars for senior leadership teams on how to integrate disparate (and seemingly contradictory) information into actionable analysis to drive business decisions. His thematic analysis and risk management is always focused on identifying opportunities within the risks. He currently serves on the board of the Africa Opportunity Fund (LSE: AOF), is a strategic advisor to Peter Kiewit & Sons, and regularly helps the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

He previously served on the boards of the Association of Yale Alumni, the U.S.-Pakistan Business Council, Interelate, and ManagedOps. He earned a Ph.D. and MS from the Sloan School of Management at MIT, an MS in Political Science from MIT, and a BA from Yale University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

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What Vikram Mansharamani Talks About:

Zoom Out!-The Generalist Advantage: 
Every day, we are confronted with radical global uncertainty — new policies and regulations, the impact of populism and protectionism on global business, fluctuating commodity prices, shifting political influence, interest rate and currency risk, and a myriad of other trends. To cut through the noise and confusion, we have increasingly come to rely on hyper-specialized experts. This trend has helped us to solve important problems, but not without a cost. The result is that we live in a world that overvalues expertise and specialization. Has the pendulum swung too far? Vikram Mansharamani thinks it has – and it’s impacted our ability to manage risk, navigate disruption and uncover hidden opportunities.

In this speech, Mansharamani offers scores of compelling real-life examples showing how expertise, while useful, leads to tunnel vision. Psychological studies have demonstrated that overreliance on the heavily-focused vision of experts can lead us to miss the most important signals—the ones we’re least primed to see. We can be blinded by focus. Instead, Vikram advocates cultivating a broader view – a generalist’s mindset. When most people encounter seemingly irrelevant information, they think “So what?!” Generalists think “isn’t that interesting!” Compiling these moments and connecting the dots often results in very different conclusions from the “experts.” Vikram’s real-life examples of this reveal an effective approach to anticipate the future.

Mansharamani explains why we need to supplement the overwhelming dependence on specialists with a self-reliant generalist mindset.  Generalist ‘foxes,’ more than specialist ‘hedgehogs,’ as Isaiah Berlin classified them, are psychologically open to ideas that are radically different from what they’ve encountered before. In fact, in our increasingly interconnected, dematerialized economy, the future may belong to the generalist. Those who connect dots rather than generate them will be better suited to navigate the uncertainty. Indeed, research has shown that generalists may be better at predicting the future than experts—likely because they are not bound to a single lens or framework, and they have a profound awareness not primarily of what they know, but of what they don’t know. With colorful examples from economics, aviation, sports, dieting, and detective fiction, Vikram shows audiences how intellectual humility, flexibility and breadth of perspective beat depth of knowledge. To succeed in the 21st century, he notes, we need to keep experts on tap, just not on top.

Building on insights from the research he conducted at the Harvard Kennedy School and from his current book project, Vikram shows the importance of thinking like a generalist, from the boardroom to the household to the operating table.  Entertaining and empowering, Vikram Mansharamani helps people be mindful about the appropriate times to zoom in and zoom out—and thus to become better prepared to manage risk and achieve a greater self-reliance. Audiences will leave knowing how to embrace the power of foxy thinking.

Globalization: Returning With A Vengeance?
Political upheavals are signaling a widespread rejection of globalization. And it’s not just happening in the North Atlantic.  Nationalist movements are popping up the world over. Meanwhile, global trade growth has been slowing. What’s driving these seismic shifts, and how should we navigate the great uncertainty they generate?

Global trend-spotter Vikram Mansharamani takes audiences on a tour of global economic and political chaos, outlining the deeper forces—demographic, cultural, and technological – driving the unrest. In doing so, he gives audiences the tools to identify both risks and opportunities in a world of dis-integrating business. And, challenging the pessimism that this story might prompt, Mansharamani concludes by describing a long-run reason for hope: the rise of the global middle class and the return of an open, liberal, globalized world. That’s right, he believes globalization is going to return.

Vikram customizes the content of this speech to the interests of the audience, incorporating information that’s fresh and relevant. Recently, he has focused on the crash in hard and energy commodity prices and the growth slowdown in China, helping the audience to understand what has caused them and what they mean for the rest of the world. He takes people on a tour of countries most affected by these developments, from Canada, South Africa, and Australia, to Brazil, Chile and Saudi Arabia.

Explaining how these upheavals will interact with other developments, Vikram also includes seemingly irrelevant topics like demographic trends, the migrant crisis, political polarization, secular stagnation, automation, renewable energy, alternative protein sources, and the rise of the global middle class. Other topics he touches on can include why India’s approach to development may be doomed to fail, the ramifications of global pandemics, America’s role in enabling tax evasion, the deflating bubble in Silicon Valley, and the under-the-radar scramble for the North Pole. These topics may seem disparate, but Vikram shows how they are connected in surprising and subtle ways—and how missing these nearly invisible connections can doom our strategies to failure.

Vikram believes that business and political leaders will find it hard to improve their country’s slice of the global economic pie when the pie is shrinking. So after the current episode of closing borders and ripping up free trade deals, they’re likely to re-embrace globalization and free trade. For long-term thinkers, the ability to look through the current situation will emerge to be a competitive advantage. Vikram helps audience to do as Wayne Gretzky’s father advised – “Skate to where the puck is going.”

Audiences will come away from this speech with a broader perspective on current affairs, but they will also leave equipped with the tools to update their views as unforeseen developments unfold. Vikram’s ultimate mission is to empower audiences to develop their own perspectives on the world in order to manage risk, seize opportunities and make better decisions.

Consumption Boom Ahead
Every day, the media trumpets warnings of a global economic slowdown. The price of oil and other commodities have crashed, damaging emerging and developed economies alike that depend on them to be high. In a world of persistently low interest rates and easy money, people have struggled to find good investments. The IMF has downgraded its global growth forecasts. And as populism and nationalism rise, globalization and free trade are in retreat.

It’s understandable why gloom is the mood everywhere. But Vikram Mansharamani sees things differently. For him, the current sense of doom is really just a fleeting moment between two massive booms. He is optimistic, and his mission is to spread his vision of long-term global prosperity to counteract today’s nearly universal mood of shortsighted pessimism. Where others see threat, he sees opportunity.

Why’s that? At the root of his belief is a persuasive analysis of demographic and economic trends. For the first time in history, the fastest growing economies are almost without exception among the world’s largest (and least developed) nations. The result: an unprecedented boom in the global middle class. The world will have billions of new consumers, and these newly prosperous people will drive a worldwide consumption boom of previously unseen proportions.  The demand unlocked will be unprecedented. Understanding how these global risers will spend their newfound cash—and where to expect the resulting demand shocks—will be crucial to divining the future dynamics of the global economy. Foresight is possible because when people increase their yearly income, they increase their levels of consumption in fairly predictable ways. They tend to add meat to their plates. They get around in more fuel-intensive ways. They invest in services like education and healthcare. They even travel, acquire technology, and use financial services. Being prescient about these developments opens up careful onlookers to massive opportunity.

And when it comes to globalization, Vikram thinks we’re going to have a return of an open, liberal, globalized world. That’s right, he believes globalization is coming back. His view is driven by a belief that business and political leaders will ultimately find it hard to improve their country’s slice of the global economic pie when the pie is shrinking. So after the current episode of closing borders and ripping up free trade deals, they’re likely to re-embrace globalization and free trade. For long-term thinkers, the ability to look through the current situation will emerge to be a competitive advantage. Vikram helps audience to do as Wayne Gretzky’s father advised – “Skate to where the puck is going.”

Vikram untangles the cross currents of today’s chaotic world through easy-to-understand, entertaining, and engaging analysis that evaluates the effect of a ballooning global middle-class on an unlikely collection of sectors — from education, entertainment, and food to defense, finance and healthcare.  Listening to his talk, audience members will come to better understand the surprising interconnections of our complex global economy. They will learn how rising meat consumption in China could lead to revolution in Azerbaijan; how Moroccan fertilizer could become the next Saudi oil; how World War III could start at the North Pole; and why offshore medicine is the new offshore banking.  In an economic environment characterized by doom and gloom, Vikram Mansharamani’s insights help audiences look differently at the nature of global prosperity and harness massive long-term opportunities.

The End of Cheap Food - A Global Forecast
Food is emerging as one of the future’s most volatile assets. Political, economic, climatic and societal change all factor into the equation. Vikram Mansharamani shows why the era of cheap food may soon be over and describes the geo-political and geo-economic ramifications of this possibility – from Wall Street to Pudong. The implications of land grabs, fertilizer availability, climate change, water scarcity, and price-related food (in)security will have profound impact on our world.
Why might the era of cheap food be over? In his speech, Mansharamani describes the extensive research he has done showing how the global middle class is poised for a massive expansion, and why this almost certainly cause a spike in the cost of food.  Billions of newly prosperous people will drive a worldwide consumption boom of unprecedented proportions. The demand unlocked will be unprecedented. One of the most consequential demand shocks will be in food. We know this because when people increase their yearly income, they increase their levels of consumption in fairly predictable ways—especially by adding meat to their plates.

Vikram Mansharamani helps audiences understand how growing demand for meat has ramifications down the value chain, since producing it requires large amounts of grain. A pound of chicken requires two pounds of feed, a pound of pork requires four pounds of feed, and a pound of beef, eight. Thus, even vegetarians will be strongly affected by this demand shock. Moreover, producing grain requires fertilizers like phosphorus and potassium, whose global supplies happen to be densely concentrated in places like Morocco, Canada, and Russia.

The stakes are high and go far beyond individual families’ purchasing power. In his speech, Vikram describes for audiences the enormous potential geopolitical ramifications of the end of cheap food. Research has shown that countries are at an extremely increased risk of social unrest when food prices cross a threshold. Most vulnerable to these disruptions are countries like Algeria and Pakistan where the average citizen already spends over 40% of his or her income on food. Those listening to Vikram’s speech come away knowing exactly where on the globe to pay attention to when the end of cheap food arrives.

In addition to potential ramifications of a spike in food prices, Vikram Mansharamani explains to audiences potential developments that could offset the dynamics he describes, from genetically modified salmon and lab-grown meat to the adoption of alternative protein sources like edible insects such as crickets. Global health policy also enters the picture.

Coming away from this talk, audiences will be able to identify the surprising global interconnections that will shape our future. They will understand how rising meat consumption in China could lead to revolution in Azerbaijan; how Moroccan fertilizer could become the next Saudi oil; and how food scientists could save the world. Ultimately, they will leave empowered to navigate the risk in a radically complex and uncertain world.

Avoid Surprises: Spotting Bubbles Before They Burst 
Vikram Mansharamani contends the ability to identify financial (and other) bubbles before they burst is easier if you step outside your expertise. Narrow focus can lead to tunnel vision. Instead, it’s best to zoom out and look through multiple lenses – to art markets, architecture, popular culture, economics, politics and more. In this speech Vikram empowers audiences with practical tools and assures them that they don’t need to be an expert to effectively anticipate the future.

“Every day, we are confronted with radical uncertainty,” says Vikram, “but the future need not surprise us.”  To cut through the noise of a complex, interconnected world, we have increasingly come to rely on hyper-specialized experts.  The result is that we live in a world that overvalues expertise and specialization.  Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of economic analysis.  If expertise is everything, why have our economic forecasts been so off?  We certainly have no shortage of economists, and no shortage of embarrassingly wrong forecasts.  We could point to any of a number of infamous predictions, from Irving Fisher’s comment in October, 1929 that “stocks prices have reached what appears to be a permanently high plateau” to James Glassmann and Kevin Haskett’s Dow 36,000, at the end of the 1990s, soon before the dot-com bubble burst. These missteps were no coincidence.

The culprit, Vikram argues, is an over-reliance on the narrow perspective that extreme specialization encourages.  Experts can be blinded by focus. Their focus turns into our filters, leading us to miss the most important signals—the ones we’re least primed to see.   Those who are steeped in a specific worldview find it difficult to see beyond it. They have a hammer, and unsurprisingly, notes Vikram, they see lots of nails.

The problem in these failed forecasts is the disciplinary straitjackets that lead specialists to miss crucial details that unassuming observers wouldn’t.  The flip side of this contention is that intelligent non-experts may be able to succeed where specialists fail.  That’s right: lack of expertise may be an advantage. In this speech, Vikram explains to audiences how they, as non-experts, can spot bubbles before they burst using a multi-disciplinary perspective. By looking widely and applying multiple lenses—including psychology, politics, and epidemiology, in addition to micro- and macroeconomics—this generalist approach can connect the dots on diverse phenomena that a spreadsheet-focused specialist would likely miss.

In describing this approach, Mansharamani introduces audiences to some of the unconventional indicators that his investigations have uncovered.  They will learn, for example, how art markets, skyscrapers, and popular culture can help to spot bubbles.  It may well be that Sotheby’s stock price, a Chinese skyscraper, and the subject of reality TV shows have as much to tell us about unsustainable economic dynamics as conventional indicators like a price-earnings ratio.

To make it as concrete as possible, Vikram takes audiences through how, using his multi-lens framework, he called the China bubble in his 2011 book Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst.  This judgment was based on debt dynamics and over-investment, but also on the clear outburst of conspicuous consumption, hubristic skyscraper construction, political dynamics, herd behavior, and even Chinese soap opera. Today, the global economy is reeling from the changes that Mansharamani anticipated, highlighting the importance of foresight to prepare for such seismic upheavals.

Vikram Mansharamani’s ultimate mission is to empower audiences, and his ultimate message, democratic.  Audience members will come away from this speech knowing that they, too, can spot bubbles. By looking broadly, non-experts can effectively anticipate—and thus navigate—the future.

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Vikram offered a broad, macro-level presentation that exposed our audience to potential opportunities and threats facing the world. He's an incredibly knowledgeable, dynamic speaker whose presentation just might change your worldview

CFA Society of Iowa

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