This article is archived and some details may be out of date.

A New Era of Exploration.

September 2021

Key points

Our international investors are explorers: which of the disruptors and innovators will deliver?

The value of an investment, and any income from it can fall as well as rise and investors may not get back the amount invested. Past performance is not a guide to future returns.

Our investors do not of course face the same hardships in their pursuit of the unknown, but there are parallels between these explorers and our investors as they seek new opportunities in international equities. They share the same passion to explore new frontiers, to get to know people, and a willingness to share their insights to light the path for those who are to follow.

A Tradition of Exploration

During her time as Writer-in-Residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS), Jo Woolfe wrote the book The Great Horizon: Fifty Tales of Exploration (2017), using her unfettered access to their archival material. In the book, she celebrates the lives of many Scottish explorers from David Livingstone (1813–1873), the explorer and missionary to East Africa, to Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889–1982), the Arctic explorer and botanist. It is an illuminating read, capturing a spirit for adventure that lives on in modern times through figures such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes (b.1944), the Polar explorer and mountaineer, who shares the great explorers’ restless energy, fascination for unchartered territory and perseverance.

Other contemporary explorers following in this tradition whom Baillie Gifford holds in high regard and whose efforts we support through sponsorship include: Craig Mathieson of the Polar Academy and Dr Beth Christie from the University of Edinburgh. Craig is the ‘Explorer-in- Residence’ with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS). He takes youngsters from a variety of backgrounds on life-changing expeditions to the Arctic. The programme challenges the young people to redefine their physical and mental limits, and then supports them in sharing their experiences back home to inspire and motivate their peers. In 2018, Dr Beth Christie was part of an all-female expedition to Antarctica, which was the culmination of a year-long programme to develop leadership, strategic and communication capabilities. Through her environmental work, she is a strong advocate for outdoor learning and teaching sustainability as a means by which to foster the values, attitudes, skills and confidence needed for people and the planet to flourish. We investors would do well to capture even a little of these attitudes.

Baillie Gifford’s own exploratory record stretches back over a century. We were founded in Edinburgh in 1908 by Colonel Augustus Baillie and Mr Carlyle Gifford. These far-sighted men were excited by the opportunities they could see in the US, the emerging market of the day, and the achievements of innovators like Henry Ford and the first automated industrial production line. Messrs Baillie and Gifford understood the potential of Ford’s mass-market Model T car. But they also saw the opportunity on the other side of the world in the rubber plantations of Malaya (now Malaysia). To them, demand for cars meant demand for rubber, hence their first investments.

New Territory for Explorers

In a dynamic world, the nature of exploration changes, whether that be exploring the physical world or the world of investment opportunities. Our predecessors were excited by mineral discoveries like the 1848 Californian Gold Rush, by transport revolutions like the mid-19th century railroad boom, or by commodity surges like the one that inspired Baillie and Gifford’s Malayan initiative. Nowadays, some of the most fertile areas for exploration can be grouped around three powerful drivers of structural growth: disruption, trust and technology. On their own, or, in some cases together, they create an array of remarkable international opportunities, which the right companies will be able to use to their advantage.

For example, in consumer stocks, we see a combination of structural trends – people, productivity and purchasing power. We are excited about a wide range of consumer durable and discretionary stocks, many of which thrive on disruptive change and are bolstered by trust earned with their customers. We are fascinated by the rise of ecommerce the world over and believe it will thrive against a backdrop of disruptive technology.

Another promising area is financial services. Here, trust matters more than these other structural growth factors. What counts is business history and management. We like to probe how business leaders assign capital, and to assess their long-term thinking. We also care about that potential to disrupt. Savings platforms have this quality, but we are more concerned about their being good stewards of clients’ capital.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the three growth drivers.


Disruption is happening at an astonishing rate, as old industries – and entire economies – show themselves ripe for change.

Take China. Over the past three decades, the People’s Republic has seen a 30 fold. increase in GDP per capita. No other country has come close. By comparison, India’s GDP has grown around sixfold. Most countries in the west have seen a rise of between two- and three-times. What does that mean for young Chinese people? Experiencing such a rapid and life-altering increase in parental wealth over one generation certainly changes one’s perspective and frames your expectations for what is possible going forward. Whereas the west has become acclimatised to changes occurring gradually over a long period of steady growth, the Chinese people have adapted to a greater magnitude of change in a much shorter time-span. As a result, the young Chinese are bright, open-minded and expect their progress to continue.

Disruption can be seen most clearly in areas like mobile payments where the shift from cash to digital has leapfrogged the credit card stage. The Chinese mobile payment industry is growing rapidly. This is taking place on the back of the rapid adoption of online retail, financial and on-demand services, such as ride-sharing activities, food delivery and the largest internet and smartphone market. Mobile payments giants Alipay and Tenpay are now bigger than Mastercard and Visa on most metrics.

A second area of disruption is more structural: the global rise of the middle class has led to huge shifts in societal and consumer habits. The world’s axis has shifted east. It will continue to do so and at an increasing rate. It took 10 years to add the last billion people to the emerging middle class. It will take seven years to add the next billion: of which, 380 million will be Indian, 350 million will come from China, and the remainder will mainly be residents of other Asian countries. As these people move from farm to factory, or factory to office, their incomes grow, their spending power improves, their appetite for buying goods increases, and this all feeds through to a wide range of big growth opportunities.

We want leaders to be patient. Outsized growth takes time. It is not about the latest quarterly growth figures. It’s all about growth that endures. As Einstein said: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t pays it”. We want to identify companies that can grow over very long timeframes. We think five-to-ten years out, and beyond.  Patience, and the willingness to navigate the inevitable ‘challenges’ or ‘noise’ is important for both us and the management teams driving the businesses forwards, just as it is for explorers.


In an age of disruption and upheaval, trust has become a rarer and hence more-prized commodity. Against such a backdrop, we believe there are rich rewards to be gained from backing companies that have won the confidence of their customers. These are the companies that can grow and endure.

Trust and loyalty are intertwined. This is well understood by the Walt Disney Company, as explored in the 2004 book If Disney Ran Your Hospital. It captures the importance of building relationships, a rule that applies whether the ‘customer’ is a patient or a theme park visitor. Few companies get it right, but those that do can potentially reap rich rewards.

A good example is luxury brands, where heritage and glamour combine to promote trust. The luxury brand houses, LVMH and Kering are salient examples here, with their brand portfolios dating back decades and, in some cases, centuries. Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854 and Gucci in 1924. Both have a formidable reputation for quality.


The rapid and continuing rise of new technology is a formidable driver of growth and, in our view, it is just getting started.


In the 1960s, US engineer Gordon Moore was first to raise awareness of the unprecedented growth trajectory which was to follow, with his ‘Law’ which predicted that processing power would double every two years. That is set to continue. There are currently only a few connected devices per person on the planet. It was just two in 2010. By 2035 that is expected to rise to 130 per person. Technology will become omnipresent, opening a wide range of opportunities.

The autonomous and electric vehicles (EVs) sector is an example of a potential growth area. Use of EVs is expected to increase a hundred-fold by 2035, offering major opportunities for the manufacturers of vehicles and components.

Other areas benefiting from technological advances include biologics or biopharmaceuticals: drug products derived from biological sources. These protein-based products are much more targeted, more complex and more effective than existing therapies. Currently they account for about a quarter of all drugs, but that proportion is set to grow. Combined with better diagnostics this new clinical frontier will have massive implications for advances in healthcare.

Not Everyone Can Make It Happen

It is not the case, however, that all companies working within robotics, for example, will benefit. Opportunity is one thing, execution another. The question for investors is who among these disruptors and innovators can deliver? And how best can we discover them?

Answering this question brings us back to our topic of explorers and our admiration for those pioneering individuals who have changed the world. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, arguably the UK’s most famous contemporary explorer, has circumnavigated the world over three years, crossing both polar ice caps. But he never claims to have done it alone and attaches huge importance to the teams that made his quests possible. In the same way, we seek to work in partnership with the management teams that are both visionary in their outlook and able to execute upon that vision. Three of the other great explorer’s qualities chime with Baillie Gifford’s investment approach: curiosity, patience and bravery. We value these qualities in our investors and look to find the same attitudes in the management teams of the companies in which we invest on behalf of our clients. The degree and emphasis will of course vary.

For management, being curious is about being openminded about the world and its opportunities – a willingness to give things a try. As the Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky puts it: “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take”. We want company leaders who are willing to invest in growth and commit to R&D spend that will expand the business, sharpen their competitive edge and achieve long-term improvement. Curiosity is a predominant trait of China’s Jack Ma, the teacher-turned-visionary who founded the internet behemoth Alibaba. His talent according to one admirer is to “come up with an idea, make it fun, and breathe something into it which otherwise is still just an idea.”

We want leaders to be patient. Outsized growth takes time. It is not about the latest quarterly growth figures. It’s all about growth that endures. As Einstein said: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t pays it”. We want to identify companies that can grow over very long timeframes. We think five-to-ten years out, and beyond.

Finally, there is the need to be brave. Having the hunger and determination to get up and keep going. A willingness to withstand short-term pressures and to be resilient. Serena Williams, the tennis champion put it: “I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but how they can recover when they fall.” Management must be willing to commit itself to long-term growth. This involves the need for research and development and not being complacent about the position of the business. Martin van den Brink of ASML – the Dutch technology company – is a good example. He has been a dominant force behind the advances made in lithography, the photographic process that imprints nanometric circuit patterns onto silicon wafers. The firm has been at the cutting edge of advancing Moore’s Law, the main reason behind the rapid rise in the performance of semiconductors and processing speed, a world-changing shift, over the past few decades.

Whenever feasible, pick your team on character, not skill. You can teach skills; you can’t teach character.

Reflecting on Ourselves

So, what about Baillie Gifford? We aspire to emulate these great pioneers – whether it be the leaders of great businesses or the explorers who have conquered new frontiers. Our journey in investment as a firm began in Edinburgh and it continues there. Our location puts us far from the madding crowd but our perspective on the world is wide open. We are willing to learn and keen to back teams we trust.

We certainly believe in learning. Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

We passionately believe in learning as investors and as an organisation.

We also believe in teamwork, in integrity, trustworthiness and sticking to our principles. As Sir Ranulph Fiennes said: “Whenever feasible, pick your team on character, not skill. You can teach skills; you can’t teach character.” For us, collaboration and team working are all-important.

Looking Forward

Recalling Jo Woolfe’s study of explorers The Great Horizon, Baillie Gifford’s own horizon is always shifting. From where we sit, we continue to be enthused by the views appearing through our telescope. We believe that international equities provide us with exciting new territories to explore, as we seek to find those companies that are seizing the opportunities created by disruption, trust and technology. We seek to harness those forces, and to partner with management teams that are curious, patient and brave. Investing is a form of exploration, one where you need the right people alongside.

Important information

Baillie Gifford & Co and Baillie Gifford & Co Limited are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Baillie Gifford & Co Limited is an Authorised Corporate Director of OEICs.

Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited provides investment management and advisory services to non-UK Professional/Institutional clients only. Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited is wholly owned by Baillie Gifford & Co. Baillie Gifford & Co and Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited are authorised and regulated by the FCA in the UK.

Persons resident or domiciled outside the UK should consult with their professional advisers as to whether they require any governmental or other consents in order to enable them to invest, and with their tax advisers for advice relevant to their own particular circumstances.


Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited provides investment management and advisory services to European (excluding UK) clients. It was incorporated in Ireland in May 2018 and is authorised by the Central Bank of Ireland. Through its MiFID passport, it has established Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited (Frankfurt Branch) to market its investment management and advisory services and distribute Baillie Gifford Worldwide Funds plc in Germany. Similarly, it has established Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited (Amsterdam Branch) to market its investment management and advisory services and distribute Baillie Gifford Worldwide Funds plc in The Netherlands. Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited also has a representative office in Zurich, Switzerland pursuant to Art. 58 of the Federal Act on Financial Institutions (‘FinIA’). It does not constitute a branch and therefore does not have authority to commit Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited. It is the intention to ask for the authorisation by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) to maintain this representative office of a foreign asset manager of collective assets in Switzerland pursuant to the applicable transitional provisions of FinIA. Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited, which is wholly owned by Baillie Gifford & Co.

Hong Kong

Baillie Gifford Asia (Hong Kong) Limited 柏基亞洲(香港)有限公司 is wholly owned by Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited and holds a Type 1 and a Type 2 license from the Securities & Futures Commission of Hong Kong to market and distribute Baillie Gifford’s range of collective investment schemes to professional investors in Hong Kong. Baillie Gifford Asia (Hong Kong) Limited 柏基亞洲(香港)有限公司 can be contacted at Suites 2713–2715, Two International Finance Centre, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong. Telephone +852 3756 5700.

South Korea

Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited is licensed with the Financial Services Commission in South Korea as a cross border Discretionary Investment Manager and Non-discretionary Investment Adviser.


Mitsubishi UFJ Baillie Gifford Asset Management Limited (‘MUBGAM’) is a joint venture company between Mitsubishi UFJ Trust & Banking Corporation and Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited. MUBGAM is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.


Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited (ARBN 118 567 178) is registered as a foreign company under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and holds Foreign Australian Financial Services Licence No 528911. This document is provided to you on the basis that you are a ‘wholesale client’ within the meaning of section 761G of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (‘Corporations Act’). Please advise Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited immediately if you are not a wholesale client. In no circumstances may this document be made available to a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of section 761G of the Corporations Act.

This document contains general information only. It does not take into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs.

South Africa

Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited is registered as a Foreign Financial Services Provider with the Financial Sector Conduct Authority in South Africa.

North America

Baillie Gifford International LLC is wholly owned by Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited; it was formed in Delaware in 2005 and is registered with the SEC. It is the legal entity through which Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited provides client service and marketing functions in North America. Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited is registered with the SEC in the United States of America.

The Manager is not resident in Canada, its head office and principal place of business is in Edinburgh, Scotland. Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited is regulated in Canada as a portfolio manager and exempt market dealer with the Ontario Securities Commission (‘OSC’). Its portfolio manager licence is currently passported into Alberta, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland & Labrador whereas the exempt market dealer licence is passported across all Canadian provinces and territories. Baillie Gifford International LLC is regulated by the OSC as an exempt market and its licence is passported across all Canadian provinces and territories. Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited (‘BGE’) relies on the International Investment Fund Manager Exemption in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.


Baillie Gifford Overseas Limited (BGO) neither has a registered business presence nor a representative office in Oman and does not undertake banking business or provide financial services in Oman. Consequently, BGO is not regulated by either the Central Bank of Oman or Oman’s Capital Market Authority. No authorization, licence or approval has been received from the Capital Market Authority of Oman or any other regulatory authority in Oman, to provide such advice or service within Oman. BGO does not solicit business in Oman and does not market, offer, sell or distribute any financial or investment products or services in Oman and no subscription to any securities, products or financial services may or will be consummated within Oman. The recipient of this document represents that it is a financial institution or a sophisticated investor (as described in Article 139 of the Executive Regulations of the Capital Market Law) and that its officers/employees have such experience in business and financial matters that they are capable of evaluating the merits and risks of investments.


The materials contained herein are not intended to constitute an offer or provision of investment management, investment and advisory services or other financial services under the laws of Qatar. The services have not been and will not be authorised by the Qatar Financial Markets Authority, the Qatar Financial Centre Regulatory Authority or the Qatar Central Bank in accordance with their regulations or any other regulations in Qatar.


Baillie Gifford Overseas is not licensed under Israel’s Regulation of Investment Advising, Investment Marketing and Portfolio Management Law, 5755–1995 (the Advice Law) and does not carry insurance pursuant to the Advice Law. This document is only intended for those categories of Israeli residents who are qualified clients listed on the First Addendum to the Advice Law.


53666 INS AR 0855

About the authors