More than 4,000 shareholders in Baron Funds crammed into the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City last Friday to hear investment and market analysis along with songs belted out by Celine Dion, Harry Connick, Jr. and others.
The all-day show was all part of Baron Capital’s 21st Annual Baron Investment Conference held every year to give investors a change to hear directly from fund manager as well as executives from some of the funds’ portfolio companies. Speaking were representatives from five companies that the funds invest in, including David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group; Steven Spinner, CEO and president of United Natural Foods; and Robert Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts.
Those presentations were followed by remarks from the host of the evening, Ron Baron, the chairman and CEO of Baron Capital. In addition, shareholders were able to ask questions of a panel of Baron fund managers in an open session.
The title of this year’s conference was “Play Ball” a reference to Ron Baron’s childhood heroes, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Baron wove that imagery throughout his commentary about the widespread fear investors still have of the equity markets despite some growing positive signs. He urged investors to “get into the game”, have confidence in the markets and seize on potential opportunities now.
He also praised his firm’s commitment to actively managed funds, saying that over the past 20 years, money invested in his funds now would have grown to twice the amount had it been invested instead in index funds or ETFs. New York-based Baron Capital, which oversees the 12-fund group that makes up Baron Funds, has about $17 billion under management.
The conference is an excellent opportunity for the funds’ shareholders to hear directly from our portfolio managers, Baron said in a statement. “We want Baron Funds’ shareholders to understand our process and see for themselves the qualities and type of leadership we look for when considering our investments.”
Of course, the main attraction at these conferences is not the dry recitation of performance numbers nor the weak attempts at humor by corporate executives. It’s the evening performances of big-name musical acts like Canadian songstress Dion and keyboard crooner Connick that really cranks up the crowd. Other performers this year included Broadway and television star Kristin Chenoweth and British soul singer Joss Stone. The annual event’s headliner—in this case, Dion—is always a closely guarded secret until the performance begins. Past performers have included Sting, Diana Ross, Jon Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Elton John.
The crowd reportedly was mostly made up of individual investors from across the country. Indeed, in order to keep the crowd-size down, attendees had to reach a certain (and undisclosed) level of invested assets before receiving an invite to the much-anticipated soiree.