A Quick Takeoff

Sadiq S. Adatia and Sun Life Global’s unusual approaches in the mutual-fund sector have generated major immediate profits

There are a lot of sloppy metaphors thrown around in the business world, but when Sadiq S. Adatia likens the client experience at Sun Life Global Investments (Canada) Inc. to putting an airplane in the hands of a trusted pilot, it makes immediate sense. “When you’re in a plane and all of a sudden there’s turbulence, the pilot comes on to tell you to buckle up your seat belt, as it may be a bumpy ride,” he says. “Our job as the pilot of your investment portfolio is to reduce the turbulence that you feel so that the experience is more comfortable. In the end, you get to your goals with a better outcome and less volatility.”

5 Questions
with Sadiq S. Adatia

 

1. What does innovation mean to your company?
Innovation is not only about new products but also about great marketing ideas that make things clearer and easier to understand. Being innovative is coming up with different ideas and solutions that meet clients’ needs.

2. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
A trend that is driving us forward is Sun Life Global Investments’ high-performance culture. When we bring people on board, we find the best people across different industries. We find people who are thinking outside of the box.

3. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
By paying attention to what’s going on in the marketplace, seeing new things happening, discovering better ways to protect capital, and adding value.

4. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
When you go back 10 years ago, many of the products that worked then no longer work today. You have to always innovate with the future in mind and not the past. You also have to be able to adapt to changing market conditions.

5. What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
Being flexible. Having an understanding that your products need to evolve. They may need tweaks. It means being ahead of the curve and constantly talking to clients. Client conversations help build better solutions.

Sun Life Global was established in 2010 as a division of Sun Life Financial, one of Canada’s most well-known financial-services companies. As chief investment officer, Adatia has helped guide the division to staggering success through equal parts of innovation and brand trust, and after a little more than two years, the mutual-fund company has gone from nothing to $6.4 billion in client-managed assets. In essence, the plane has already reached cruising altitude.

Sun Life Global claims to bring its clients the best in asset management through innovative solutions, and Adatia says these solutions are typically created as a result of client needs. “Investors and clients are not looking for plain vanilla funds anymore,” he says. The key to Sun Life Global’s model is the best-of-breed approach, where managers with expertise in a particular asset class are chosen to manage a specific component of the portfolio. “No one manager can do every asset class exceptionally well, so we use multiple managers from the around the world,” Adatia says. “It is like creating an all-star lineup of managers, which gives our clients the best chance of outperforming.”

Sun Life Global also differs from other investment companies in that its strategy includes both actively and passively managed portfolios. “There is an opportunity for both in the marketplace,” Adatia says. “We don’t have a bias either way. If we see the market being really expensive and with higher risk, we will dial down that risk in the portfolio. When the risk is cheap and the reward high, we’ll add to the risk. As such, we’re managing the turbulence in the portfolio so that clients don’t have to worry about it.”

Additionally, Adatia and his team have a keen eye for developing trends in the marketplace. “Today we see opportunity in the income space,” he says. “Recently, we launched five new funds in that category.”

It helps that all this outside-the-box thinking is further promoted by Sun Life Global’s leader. “Our president, Rick Headrick, has emphasized, ‘Let’s be innovative, cutting-edge, ahead of the marketplace, and client-focused,’” Adatia says. Under Headrick and Adatia’s leadership, the company has landed clients who have come to expect strong performance in a risk-controlled framework.

Even though the Canadian market is currently skittish and “starting to soften,” says Adatia, he’s optimistic because he knows it’s only a matter of time before things turn around. “Opportunities tend to present themselves during these times,” Adatia says. “We see opportunities in the US and emerging markets. These are areas that have gone through a tough environment and are now beginning to turn the corner.”

In the meantime, Sun Life Global is committed to protecting its clients’ capital. “I want our clients to feel very comfortable investing with us,” Adatia says. “Because of our trusted name and reputation, we have been able to have success in a very short time. Listening to our clients and bringing innovative solutions to them has been a winning strategy and one that we intend on continuing.”