Office Artifact: What Fly-Fishing Taught Me About Investing

Stanford GSB accounting professor Charles M. C. Lee shares the story behind his favorite teaching keepsake.

January 13, 2020

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Charles M. C. Lee holds the shadow box of fly-fishing flies given to him by students in one of his investment classes. | Toni Bird

This came from a class I taught at Cornell on hedge funds. The students gave it to me because they know how much I love to fish and because I always use fly-fishing as a metaphor in my classes. It’s a shadow box with 24 fly-fishing flies, each with the name of one of the students below it. I was really charmed by it.

Editor’s Note

In this series, we visit faculty offices and ask Stanford GSB professors to tell the stories behind one of the knicknacks on their shelves.

Charles M. C. Lee is the Moghadam Family Professor and professor of accounting at Stanford GSB.

My family moved to Canada from Taiwan when I was 9, and I immediately fell in love with fishing. I spent so much time on the rivers, I don’t know how I graduated from high school.

Fishing is my escape. It’s tactile, but it’s also meditative. I always encourage my PhD students to find something contemplative like fly-fishing, something that enables them to walk away from their work now and then. Because creativity comes from peripheral vision, not from what you’re staring at. It comes when you see a connection that wasn’t there before. And sometimes the jumps are just brewing in your subconscious. They’re serendipitous.

I also talk about fly-fishing in my investment classes. The biggest problem with investing is that people become obsessed with results. Everything is about performance. I tell students, “You have to spend time studying the river, and you have to ask questions. What kind of insects are the fish eating? Where’s the wind?”

The best day on the river is the one in which you learn about the river. It’s not the day when you land the most fish. It’s when you learn the most. And the more you learn, the more you’re likely to catch fish.

— Charles M. C. Lee, as told to Steve Hawk

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