He has only a grade 12 education and used to labor as a Bell Canada repairman. He has never worked for a big bank or a mutual fund company. He largely shuns the Courvoisier-chugging Bay Street set. But if you're searching for the best mutual fund manager in Canada, you'll find it difficult to avoid quiet, shy Francis Chou.
Quite simply, Chou's numbers are eye-popping. His flagship, the Chou Associates Fund, has achieved compounded returns of about 16% a year for 24 years, leaving his competitors in the dust. In acknowledgment of his outstanding record, he was named the Morningstar Fund Manager of the Decade at the Canadian Investment Awards in 2004. "The reason he got the award," says Scott Mackenzie, president and CEO of mutual fund research firm Morningstar Canada, "is because he's head and shoulders above anyone else in terms of risk-adjusted performance. That means he not only achieved superior performance, he did it in a way that his results were substantially less volatile than other funds like his."
How did this immigrant from Allahabad, India, who came to Canada back in 1976, beat the best and brightest that Bay Street has to offer? It's not an easy question to answer, because Chou is a very private man. He has granted few interviews over the last 20 years and when he does talk, he avoids discussing his personal life. Chou seems to be mystified as to why anyone would care what his parents did (his father was a professor and his mother a university lecturer), how old he was when his dad died (very young), or how many brothers and sisters he has (one older brother, three younger sisters, all now living in Canada). He sees himself as a regular sort of guy who showed up in Canada at age 20 with $200 in his pocket, landed a job at Bell Canada, and proceeded to become fascinated by the writings of Benjamin Graham, the Wall Street financier widely regarded as father of value investing.