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I’m competitive by nature. I love the fact that there is a benchmark to beat every day.”
Pragna Shere comes from a family of achievers. Her father left his small Indian village as a teenager so he could go to a better school and university. He later had to leave his wife and children behind so he could study engineering in the United States, part of a plan to create a better life for his family in America, where they moved to when Pragna was just two years old. His daughter inherited his work ethic and ambition, aiming for the best grades in school and top performance as a money manager. "I’m competitive by nature," said Pragna. "I love the fact that there is a benchmark to try to beat every day." Today she is a portfolio manager at Alger, where she picks international stocks. Outside of work, she listens to Bruce Springsteen in her spare time.
Was your father a trailblazer for leaving India in the 1960s?
He was a bit of a pioneer. He was the only one from his village to do that. It made him sort of famous there. You could say he was ahead of his time. His intention was for us to grow up in the U.S. so we would be educated here, where there were more opportunities.
Did others later follow his path?
He was the first but since then he has sponsored or helped a number of others to move here. Now there are more than 150 Sheres in the U.S. It is a very close-knit family and when we get together people are truly happy to see each other.
Did you intend to go into money management all along?
I sort of stumbled into this field. I grew up in Queens and Long Island and then went to Stony Brook. I was a double major in college: psychology and economics. Someone I met on a study abroad program in London told me about a job at Clay Finlay, a boutique firm that focused on international stocks. There were only about 10 or 12 employees, which gave me a chance to hold different jobs and learn a lot about portfolio management.
What do you find exciting about picking stocks?
I love the fact that there is a scorecard. That is extremely motivating for me. I also love finding and meeting with new companies with the hope that I can catch them at their inflection point. It’s super exciting when you come to a conclusion about a stock before the market does and you are rewarded for that. Sometimes you come across some real gems.
You are an active money manager at a time when many investors just buy the index. What’s the value you provide?
Many analysts tend to be conservative. They take what management tells them at face value without probing deeply to learn the true state of affairs. That means some stocks are underappreciated, which creates opportunities for investors who do in-depth research and really get to know the companies and their histories. Spotting those inefficiencies can help you in your drive to generate alpha.
Where do you do your best thinking?
I would say mostly at work. I am a writer. When I analyze a company, I need to write everything out. Once I put it all down on paper, I am able to process it. That is where the clarity comes for me.
You meet with a lot of companies as part of your investment process. What do you learn from that?
Meeting with senior management at companies is a crucial part of our investment process, as it provides an opportunity to learn about a company’s growth strategy directly from the CEO/CFO, as well as provides insights into executives’ thought processes. We can learn not only about specific companies but also about the evolution of their industries. Since travel has been curtailed, advancements in technology have made it possible and very simple to meet with companies virtually. In fact, senior management teams at many companies have become even more accessible than in pre-Covid times.
Are there countries you’ve visited that really left a lasting impression?
I’ve been to India and I’ve seen dramatic changes over time. I was there a few years ago and I decided to visit a mall in Mumbai that a real estate company was developing. I felt like I could have been in New Jersey. I couldn’t believe the scale and pace of development that was occurring in India.
Do you feel a personal connection to India despite not growing up there?
I do because I still have quite a bit of family there. Honestly, when I go to India, I feel a little bit bittersweet. I want to see the country advance but I’d also like it to retain the charm of an emerging country. Some of that gets lost as a country develops. You can still find that charm when you get outside the big cities.
What do you do to unwind?
I like to exercise after work. I find that it’s very helpful to relieve the stress and forget about things, forget about the markets for a little while. I’ll take different classes: strength training, cardio, spinning. I also run on the treadmill. I like to bicycle too, but only outside of New York City. I don’t feel particularly safe with the traffic.
Any musical interests?
I love pop and soft rock. I find I can get lost in the lyrics of a song. When I was younger, I went to as many Bruce Springsteen concerts as I could get tickets to. Another of my favorite bands is "Everything but the Girl," a British husband and wife team. I’ll listen to music at the gym when I am not taking a class and whenever I am in the car.
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