About Woodford

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At Woodford, we feel strongly that existing and potential clients are entitled to understand what we’re doing with their money. Understanding our long-term, disciplined investment approach and process is crucial in helping investors understand how their investments are being managed and the experience they can expect when investing with us.

As investors, we are active, engaged, long-term, disciplined, diligent and focused. That’s a lot of things to say about ourselves but each word is important in helping you to understand how we manage money.

Investment approach

First and foremost, we are stock pickers. We combine rigorous analysis of companies with our view of the economic variables that may impact them. This approach allows us to construct robust investment rationales. We focus on what matters: the long-term perspective and the fundamental attractions of a business.

At Woodford, we believe that compelling investment opportunities do not start and end with larger, listed companies. For more than a decade, Neil and his team have also recognised the attractive investment proposition of early-stage companies and have been deploying long-term patient capital to young businesses. Our focus in this area remains on the fundamentals (principally of the business as the wider economic picture is less relevant in this area) and really supporting businesses through to commercialisation and fulfilment of their long-term potential. The risks are undoubtedly higher than in the more mainstream investment universe but, when adjusted for these additional risks, we believe that the potential long-term rewards are very attractive.

An active strategy

We believe that being an active investor means doing something different from the market and adding value through the investment process.

Every investment we buy, we buy on merit – we never invest in companies to make our portfolios look more like the index. As a result, our portfolios tend to look and behave very differently to the general market. We understand this can make investors uncomfortable at times but our unwavering focus is on identifying long-term value.

Company engagement

We are also active in our engagement with company management teams, as we want to represent our investors’ best interests in our discussions with management teams. We engage with management and work in partnership to try to influence change where necessary.

Long-term focus

Our long-term approach to investment management is encapsulated in a patient capital investment style. The forces of fundamentals and valuation may be over-ridden by sentiment and market momentum in the short term but we believe it is the longer time periods that count. Our focus is always on the long-term drivers of share prices.

Our approach is focused on value discovery, not on price discovery. We believe that focusing on valuation and identifying companies that can deliver sustainable growth, today or in the future, is the way to secure good long-term investment outcomes.

Absolute focus

We believe investors expect a return and protecting our investors’ capital is our key priority.

In the case of younger businesses, investors do have to tolerate the prospect of loss on a stock-specific basis. Our due diligence efforts are designed to minimise this risk and we also aim to achieve capital preservation through diversification, by investing in a larger number of smaller positions.

There will inevitably be periods when a fund falls in value but we believe our disciplined strategy, with a focus on valuation and diligent stock picking, can help us deliver a positive return over the long term.


The Woodford investment process is circular and continuous. There are no set criteria for stock selection and investment decisions are continually revisited to ensure their ongoing relevance and appropriateness.

Idea generation

We have a broad-based approach to idea generation. Some are internally generated, while others are identified through proprietary analysis and external research from a wide range of sources. Many originate from our extensive interactions with the wider investment industry and through our conversations with company management teams. We also have an extensive (and growing) network of relationships that regularly bring new ideas to our attention.

Our network is especially important when identifying suitable early-stage business investment opportunities. We have cultivated close and collaborative relationships with a trusted group of organisations and individuals spanning a range of skills needed to take a business from seed to commercialisation and covering multiple industry sectors and geographical locations. Our network includes tech transfer specialists, leading academics, venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs, development-stage and commercial executives, investment banks and retired executives and experienced board members. We use our network to share ideas, reinforce due diligence, secure specialist technical advice and tap into commercial acumen.

Macroeconomic view

For us, a comprehensive, fundamental understanding of the long-term macroeconomic outlook (the bigger economic picture) is a critical part of our investment approach. This does not involve trying to precisely forecast macro variables. More, it is about evaluating the likely direction of those variables and trying to understand the key drivers of (for example) growth, inflation, labour markets, liquidity and trade. If we can understand the long-term direction and influences of these variables, we believe this will inform better long-term decisions.

This long-term view of the bigger economic picture helps to direct our research efforts and inform our assumptions and judgements on all investment opportunities. The view is of more importance when judging the attractiveness of mature businesses as the fortunes of earlier-stage businesses are determined more by their own fundamental progress.

Fundamental analysis

Over-arching all of our research efforts is a desire to be as comprehensive as possible in our understanding of a company’s fundamentals (its actual operating performance, including its ability to deliver growing revenues, profits, cashflow and dividends). We consider inputs from a wide range of sources, with the aim of reaching informed investment decisions that will add long-term value for our investors.

Quantitative analysis plays an important role in our investment process but needs to be considered in conjunction with many other qualitative judgements, including:

  • Do we have confidence in the executive management team to deliver on their long-term objectives?
  • Is management aligned with shareholders?
  • Are margins and cash flows sustainable?
  • What long-term growth can this company deliver and how will it fund that growth?
  • Are there any regulatory, legal, political or other threats to this company and its industry?
  • Does the price that we are being asked to pay for a stake in this company represent compelling value?

When investing in early-stage businesses, the analysis is particularly detailed and aims to demonstrate that the management team’s account of the attractions of the business can be evidenced by fact.

Initial investigation involves the team looking at the business area the company operates in, intellectual property and technology, patent estate, products and services, financial characteristics and management team. We also consider market size, commercial opportunity, competitive environment and risks.

During the next stage of the process – detailed due diligence – we undertake site visits, meet the wider team, talk to potential customers, suppliers and analysts, carry out detailed scientific diligence, engage with industry specialists to better understand the technology and science and the competitive context, commission detailed intellectual property reviews, undertake extensive financial modelling, check underlying assumptions and complete a comprehensive review of valuation, based on a longer-term investment time horizon.

Around half of the companies on which we complete due diligence will be approved for investment and enter the final pre-investment stages of legal process and final approval. In this stage, we conduct more technical diligence on companies as required (covering subjects such as financials, intellectual property, legal, tax and anti-money laundering) and submit to the company the investment terms on which we are prepared to invest.

Company engagement

Meeting company management teams is a vital part of our investment process and responsibility for it sits with the investment team. For us, corporate governance is about ensuring that the executive and board of a company are aligned with us as shareholders and that the course that they have set for the business will create long-term shareholder value. If we fear that this alignment does not exist or feel that an alternative strategy may result in the realisation of more shareholder value, we will engage with management to try to influence change.

We meet with management teams regularly – typically at least twice a year after the release of financial results but more frequently where the need arises. These meetings are an important source of information in building our conviction in an opportunity – which in turn leads activity.

We are necessarily highly engaged with the management teams of the early-stage businesses in which we invest – although not so involved that we influence day-to-day decisions. For our private investments, a combination of board meetings, board packs and quarterly management reviews ensures we stay current with our investments from the perspective of monitoring – for oversight and valuation purposes. If we identify an issue, we become more engaged, trying to get to the root cause and encouraging the business to address this through a number of means. We hold each company to account to make sure it achieves the milestones we have set. If it does, we put more capital to work and if it doesn’t, we stop or withdraw funding.

Portfolio construction

The construction of the portfolio is the sole responsibility of the fund manager, Neil Woodford, with other members of the investment team assisting in information gathering, analysis and implementation.

The aim of all of our research efforts is to arrive at an informed judgement about long-term value so that we can assess whether the investment opportunity is attractive enough to include in a portfolio. There is always intense competition for capital within portfolios, so a new investment opportunity has to fight for attention and prove its credentials alongside existing positions.

Portfolio construction is entirely a product of stock specifics – the fundamental attractions of each individual investment and the level of our conviction in each opportunity. It is not by reference to any index or sector preference. Each stock is included in a portfolio on its own merit – we do not hold positions purely to manage relative risk. Portfolio weightings are determined by the level of our conviction in an investment thesis and our judgement of the balance between the potential upside to true inherent long-term value and the risks that may stand in the way of that long-term value being realised.

All of this is informally balanced against a desire to be appropriately diversified at a stock and sector level, in pursuit of a portfolio that can deliver attractive long-term risk-adjusted returns.

For early-stage investing, when we first invest, it will be with a typical time horizon of somewhere between three to five years, split into funding more discrete 18-24-month business plans. If a business is successful, a 10-15 year holding period is entirely possible. The largest portfolio positions are typically those where the company is furthest along the development or commercialisation path.

Portfolio monitoring

Monitoring of portfolio holdings is a continuous process and is primarily the responsibility of the fund manager, assisted by the rest of the investment team. All portfolios are reviewed daily to ensure appropriateness, consistency and adherence to the mandate, including any relevant restrictions. Individual holdings are assessed and monitored daily for news flow and relevant conversations with brokers and directly with the company.

Sell discipline

A decision to sell tends to be formed around three, often inter-linked factors:

  • Our judgement that a stock’s valuation has started to look less attractive (the gap between ‘value’ and ‘price’ has closed)
  • An event such as financial results or an acquisition, which changes our view of the company
  • A stock starting to look less attractive than other investment ideas that are competing for a place in the portfolio

These factors will always dominate a decision to sell or reduce a position, unless we are mandatorily required to sell (for instance, if we could exceed the maximum permitted size due to share price movements or in a bid situation).

Find out more

Woodford Investment Management Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (firm reference number 745433). Incorporated in England and Wales, company number 10118169. Registered address: 27 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AX.

© 2020 Woodford Investment Management Ltd.
All rights reserved.

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