Meet the strategist: Mike Pyle

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We recently chatted with BlackRock’s Global Chief Investment Strategist Mike Pyle to learn more about him. This post features highlights from our discussion, including details about his move to asset management from economic policy roles at the White House, his approach to investment strategy and why he doesn’t currently have time for extracurricular hobbies.

It’s the latest installment in an ongoing series of Q&As with BlackRock investment strategists. The last installment featured Ben Powell.

After graduating from Yale Law School, you began your career as a law clerk to the Hon. Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Then you transitioned to public policy and served for five years on President Barack Obama’s economic policy team. Why did you make that transition from law?

I felt so fortunate that my first job out of school was as a law clerk to Judge Garland. He represents the very best traditions in the United States of public service and continues to be a role model for me in so many ways.

I often say that I learned three things from the Judge: what it meant to love the law, that I didn’t love the law the way he did, and that I needed to commit myself to something that I loved as much as the Judge loved the law.

I realized that economics – in both its public policy and financial applications – was what I had always loved and wanted to do. Indeed, as far back as college, even if I didn’t have the words to express it, I knew that I wanted to build a career at the intersection of public policy, global economics and financial markets.  And so, when I left my clerkship, I really focused on making that transition. Fortunately for me, the then-Director of the Congressional Budget Office took a risk and hired me as his special assistant, and that set me off into the world of economic policy.

How did you get from the White House to BlackRock, where you were the Deputy Chief Investment Officer of the firm’s Multi-Asset Strategies (MAS) team before moving to your current role?

I got very fortunate is how! I am very indebted to a lot of people at the firm who took a chance on me six years ago.

More generally, I spent a significant amount of time while I was in government interpreting incoming data from the economy and financial markets. Being on top of market information was a very important part of what I did – particularly during the response to the global financial crisis and, later, to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. When I left government, I wanted to have a next step that got me even closer to economics and markets – and that also continued giving me a meaningful connection to mission and purpose. BlackRock, with its strong fiduciary culture, felt very comfortable to me as a professional home and substantively like a challenging natural extension of what I had done.

During President Obama’s administration, you worked at the White House as a Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. What from your time at the White House has proved helpful in your current role at BlackRock?

The first 30% to 40% of the jobs are very similar in that you start by working to get an accurate picture of the world around you. From there, the jobs go down different avenues. In government, it was about getting from the world as it is to the world as you want – or rather, the president wants – it to be. It is about understanding where you want the world to go, the political constraints you face, and how to get from A to B as fast as you can in light of those constraints.

In asset management, it’s more about taking the world as it is and forecasting how it’s likely to be. And then, even more importantly, identifying the disconnects between the picture of the world reflected in market prices and your own views.

What is your approach as BlackRock’s chief investment strategist?

It’s to be the best ambassador for the firm and our investors that I can be – to our clients all over the world. That means – alongside our world-class macroeconomic research capabilities and our investment community as a whole – articulating a rigorous and data-driven set of market views at all points in time. It also means, increasingly, connecting that shorter-horizon markets discussion to a less time-bound set of conversations around the whole portfolio: from strategic asset allocation and sustainability to the role of private assets and sizing China in portfolios. If I’m doing my job correctly, I’m helping the BlackRock Investment Institute and the larger firm be seen as exemplars of that whole portfolio approach.

What is the toughest part of your job?

There are so many interesting things happening around BlackRock, and the firm is tied into so many exciting parts of global markets and investing. Yet there are only 24 hours in a day. The hard part is figuring out how to allocate my scarce time in a way that is most impactful to our clients and to the firm.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I get to wake up every day and try to figure out the world and by doing so, help our investors and clients navigate the world with their portfolio decisions – that is a really exciting thing. The world is a fascinating, complicated place. Our investors and clients are making decisions that impact so many people around the world – people who are counting on us to help them financially achieve their goals and dreams. Playing a part in that is very special.

What was the biggest challenge of your career?

The biggest challenges have also been the biggest moments of opportunity: where I either made a career transition or a move from role to role within in an existing trajectory. I’ve tried to make a point of running up the steepest professional hill around me. That was true in my transitions from law to public policy, and from public policy to investing. It was true in my roles across government, and now it’s true as I’ve moved to an investment strategy role at BlackRock. Finding the steepest hill and running up it is uncomfortable and difficult. My wife says that whenever I take a new job I always say a couple of months in that “I’ve made a terrible mistake” – exactly because it can be so uncomfortable running up hills in the early days of a big new challenge. But that’s ultimately where the growth and fun come from.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

I would say having played some small part at the White House in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

What advice would you give to young people just starting out their careers?

The advice I regularly give is to invest your career in people not places – to build a career through your relationships with people rather than the name of the institution on the business card. Whom you choose to collaborate with is among the most important decisions in life. That’s true for artists. It’s true for the rest of us as well – a satisfying and purposeful career is really about identifying an individual person or set of people that you want to learn from and work toward a shared purpose alongside. Everything else flows from that initial choice. I was lucky to find that at the White House – I’ve found it in spades at BlackRock, too.

What are you interested in or involved with outside of work?

Throughout my career, I’ve cared a lot about the rights of immigrants, particularly women and children. I did a fair amount of pro bono work back when I was a lawyer on behalf of immigrant women who were victims of domestic violence, both in the United States and in London. And I have just recently gotten involved with the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, an organization that was founded by four extraordinary women who went to my law school and that provides legal services and advocacy to people, primarily women and children, who are seeking asylum in the United States.

What are your hobbies outside of work?

I have a six year old, a four year old and a two year old as well as a wife with a very intense job in media. I’m just trying to do a good job at work and be a good father and husband and contribute where I can to the U.S. economic policy debate – that fully occupies me.

For more, watch Mike in the video below, read publications by the BlackRock Investment Institute, and stay tuned for the next interview in the Meet the strategist series.

Mike Pyle is BlackRock’s chief global investment strategist, and a member of the BlackRock Investment Institute. He is a regular contributor to The Blog.

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