What a year! Looking back decades from now, we’re confident that 2020 will go down as one of the most memorable and important years in market history. With that in mind, we thought we’d close out the year getting some final thoughts from Ensemble Capital’s research team on the year that was, and what impacts it might have in the coming years.
Thank you for reading our articles this year. We hope you enjoy this holiday season!
What company impressed you the most in 2020?
Sean Stannard-Stockton: In our portfolio, it would have to be Ferrari. Remember Italy was the first place outside of Wuhan that was hit hard by the virus back in March. Hospitals were overflowing. People were dying in hospital beds that were stacked end to end in hallways. At the time, we had several Zoom calls with investors and business executives in Italy. Every one of them was horrified! Seeing this peak into the spare bedrooms or home offices of businesspeople living and working in Italy, and seeing the fear that was on their faces and in every word they spoke, drove home the fact that operating a business at that time was a near impossibility.
But Ferrari did the impossible. As described in a Harvard Business School case study of how the company responded to COVID, they recognized immediately that the most important thing was to protect their employees. While the Italian government struggled to care for its citizens, Ferrari rolled out testing and when an employee tested positive, they immediately put them up in an apartment and provided medical care in an environment isolated from the employee’s family and co-workers.
But they did not stop there. A company is not an island, it exists in an interconnected reality of customers, employees, suppliers, etc. As HBS wrote:
“[Ferrari] focused on all stakeholders, not only employees. At a time when businesses are hurting financially, many leaders are focused locally on cost-cutting — including layoffs and furloughs. By contrast, Ferrari has been thinking about its stakeholders more broadly. Ferrari’s suppliers can access the same voluntary coronavirus screening offered to employees and their families. In addition, all the protocols Ferrari is using internally are shared with its suppliers so that they can use the same procedures in their own companies, and it is distributing masks not just to employees but also to suppliers and residents of the three towns—Maranello, Fiorano, and Formigine—where most of the company’s employees live.”
Most people would not look to a luxury car company to be a standard bearer of social responsibility. But we believe that all companies, in every industry, need to understand their relationship with all stakeholders and strive to make each of them a positive sum relationship.
Arif Karim: If I were to pick one company as the poster child, I’d say Moderna impressed me most this year… but really it’s the dawning of the age of genetic medicine that really came to the fore this year.
The combination of technology and our understanding of life sciences came to the fore this year, highlighted by Moderna’s (and BioNtech) development of an RNA based vaccine. After getting its hands on the RNA sequence of the SARS-COV2 virus that comprise its genetic instructions, Moderna was quickly able to design the RNA template for the spike protein powering the vaccine response in just two days. Not only is this a win for humanity against COVID, but it demonstrates the front edge of the wave of gene-based therapies that are in development and will generate huge gains in the treatment of inherited and acquired gene and protein centered diseases over the next few decades. Powering this wave of therapies, Illumina’s sequencing technology has opened up the realm of our personal genomes at an affordable price. This will allow scientists and engineers to access and use population level insights using machine learning across millions, and eventually billions, of genomes from around the world.
Todd Wenning: As Masimo’s CEO Joe Kiani put it, Masimo was built for a COVID-type scenario. And, Masimo delivered. Not only were its existing pulse oximetry products instrumental in treating COVID cases, but the company made some of its newer products, such as hemoglobin monitoring, available to hospitals at no additional charge during the pandemic. Back in March, and within a matter of weeks, Masimo iterated on an existing product to create a way for hospitals to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs using wireless sensors and a smartphone app. When hospitals don’t have enough beds or monitors to treat patients, Masimo SafetyNet can continuously monitor patients at home and alert medical professionals and caregivers if they need to come to the hospital immediately. For eight days of continuous monitoring, the patient pays just $150. Everyone wins in that situation – the patient, the hospital, and the medical system. Post-COVID, we believe there will be a huge market opportunity for this product to be used post hospital discharge on patients with chronic illnesses.
What’s something you changed your mind about in 2020?
Sean: Despite Ensemble Capital embracing remote work years ago, I was initially very skeptical of the idea that there would be a big shift towards remote work. The fact is that most jobs in America can’t be done remotely. As professional investors, it is easy to look around and see your peers seamlessly working remotely (and enjoying it!) and think everyone feels the same. Yet studies show that single men and women, as well as married women with children, report far lower levels of satisfaction with remote work then married men. Yet much of the capital invested in the stock market is managed by married men. So, I had originally thought that the majority of investors were expecting[…]