Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boyce-isms

In mid-August of 2011 our good friend Boyce died kayaking in the North Fork of the Payette, casting a pall over the many people around the country who knew Boyce in one of his four lives:  one of New England’s pre-eminent hardmen of whitewater kayaking, as one of the top executives managing $150 billion at Fidelity Investments, the principal investor in the successful Liquid Logic kayak company, and as a devoted family man.     Though the lives of a high level kayaker and a financier aren’t commonly associated, Boyce walked the line with aplomb. 
 















Boyce was famously logical, which is likely why he achieved such a high level of respect in finance, and some of his gem quotes have stood the test of time and acted as guides for both his colleagues and his kayak partners.   Here are a few examples:

When the mighty Kern brothers were embarking on their remarkable kayaking careers they felt compelled to travel the country following the rains and the dam releases.  At one point they wanted to go down to the Green River (in North Carolina) or the Gauley (in W. Virginia) as dirtbag kayakers they didn’t have a working car to get them down there, so they asked Boyce if they could borrow his Ford Explorern for the trip.  Boyce agreed, and off they went on a good adventure.  However, a week later they had an “issue” and were forced to make the call that everyone dreads:  “Boyce, we totaled the Explorer.”  A long pause, then The Line:  “Well, I never invest more than I can afford to lose.”  And that was that. 


Boyce was renowned for having huevos of steel.  Even in his mid-50’s, he was always pushing the limits on rivers; running ever-harder stuff at ever-higher flows, despite taking more than a few ferocious beatings and swims.  One memorable day with our mutual buddy Greg Hanlon on the infamous Tereau river in Quebec, Boyce got vertically pinned and had to be rescued by his friends using a river-wide tag line, which was then followed by a bad swim that had his partners worried about him potentially drowning.  After finally getting re-situated Greg asked Boyce if was still good to go, because it got steeper and more committing below.  Boyce looked at Greg somewhat incredulously and in a very even tone:  “What happened up there has absolutely no bearing on what will happen downstream.”   While the logic was irrefutable, it takes an mastery of emotion to exercise it so the fear associated with what just happened isn’t paralyzing your actions in what comes next. 

Boyce was asked to go back to Harvard – where he had received his MBA – to give a presentation to current MBA students.  One of them asked “what would you suggest that we students do so that we can achieve the same success as you?”  His simple reply, that was undoubtedly a little disappointing to the ambitious students:  “I’d take a lot of math. Life and business is all about solving problems, and if you can solve math problems, you can learn to solve any problems.”
this could be a problem! 

In the aftermath of the financial meltdown of 2008 Wall Street types were not only absolving themselves of all blame, they were also skating out of the industry, many times with big bonuses, much to the chagrin of the investors.  When asked about this, Boyce said “It was the likes of us who got the individual investors into this mess, and as such, it’s our responsibility to help guide them out of it.”  If only most/some/any of his peers had that kind of integrity (Here’s a link to a video of Boyce as a guest on CNBC in 2009  - when the Dow was near 7000 - talking about long term investment fundamentals:

As one might expect of a high level finance guy, Boyce made a lot of money.  And no doubt he and his family’s spending was a bit on the lavish side.  But in the American Whitewater’s list of annual giving to support free-flowing rivers, under the “$10,000+” category it would be Patagonia….and Boyce Greer.  His rationale was simple: “It’s what I do.”  When we did an expedition on the Romaine river in remote Quebec and needed to hire a plane to take a dozen people on three flights in to the put-in, Boyce insisted on paying for the whole flight cost, after using his motor home to get 9 of us up there.  And when he took his family on a Middle Fork Salmon/Main Salmon combination with a commercial company he invited some friends along who typically didn’t do guided trips.  They were a bit reluctant to pay the price for the commercial trip nor have Boyce pay for their whole vacation, but Boyce insisted:  “Look, this is what I do for fun, and I want to do it with my best friends.  That is invaluable to me.” 


After an expedition went awry and our team got benighted in Chile in the rain, when Boyce finally made it to the airport after having missed his flight he requested a first class upgrade to rewind on the way home.  The ticket agent said “But sir, that is very expensive” and Boyce responded “This card has a credit limit of $10,000; please don’t exceed that.”

Of course, with the means that Boyce had he could afford to do these kinds of things, and it’s perhaps unrealistic to apply these “inspirational” stories to those of us without those means.   But the theories and practices: protecting what you love, acting with integrity, valuing your friends, investing in what you believe in, and looking at rivers and investments and the perils of each with complete and utter objectivity are those that we can all take through our lives. 

I once asked Boyce on a long haul back home what he said on Monday mornings down at the Fidelity office in downtown Boston after he’s driven all night both ways to huck himself through class 5 drops all weekend while his colleagues have been watching the Sunday morning news shows, catching the big game, and barbequeing prime ribs, and they say “Hey Boyce, what were you up to this weekend?”  His only-partial tongue-in-cheek response?  “I had more fun this weekend than you can possibly imagine.”  Hear hear, Boyce.  Live it up. 
Boyce not watching The Big Game

Perhaps the best quote was actually not by Boyce himself but by his good friend Woody Callaway:

who’s been a staple in the kayak industry since the beginning of time and pretty much defines southern good old boy charm.  Woody spoke to a crowd of over 2000 people – mostly wearing suits, while he was in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops – in a huge tent at Fidelity’s New Hampshire HQ for Boyce’s memorial, and after getting plenty of chuckles for saying “when Boyce said he worked for a bank he made me think he was a branch manager or sumthin’” he then got a bit emotional in his final comments.  Woody left the podium, then suddenly lunged back, grabbed the microphone, and at the top of his lungs yelled:  “BOYCE GREER IS THE FUCKIN MAN!”  Indeed he is. 
with his comrade-in-arms Greg, deep in the wilds of  yet another river. 


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