Investment Lessons from a Gay Bar

When word got out that Russian President, Vladimir Putin had signed a bunch of anti-LGBT laws, the LGBT community responded by saying: “Boycott Russian vodkas.” Easy enough. I followed the lead of pro-human rights bar owners and consumers and ditched the famous Russian beverage. I switched to Tito’s Vodka from Texas, because we all know how well Texas treats the LGBT community. Heck, even my dad said he’d stop buying his favorite rare treat, Stoli Elit. (Good call Dad—it’s too expensive!)

Then new information surfaced. Stoli’s CEO is apparently a friend of the LGBT community and is no fan of the Russian government (he issued a statement denouncing the Russian law). The company headquarters are in Luxembourg, and one of its main production facilities is in Latvia. It’s distributed in the U.S. by an American subsidy of a Scottish company. Somehow, an emotional reaction to Russian law caused me to make a choice that may have hurt the cause I was trying to protect.

A Lesson About Separating Our Emotions from Our Financial Decisions

So, what does any of this have to do with my job as a financial advisor?

Here I am educating clients about the risks of letting their emotions cause them financial harm. Yet, I was guilty of letting a couple of headlines and Facebook posts completely change my beliefs about a 70-year-old company. I let my emotions take over my decision-making, and I jumped on the Russian vodka “ban wagon” overnight. I remember when I had my own shift with the whole idea of socially conscious investing. Briefly, I feared that I had become the greedy finance guy who cared only about maximizing returns. That is, until I created a system for my charitable giving that allowed me to give more to the causes that I love.

Go XES

My favorite player in the Stoli debacle right now is XES Lounge in New York. The bar’s owner researched Stoli’s connection to the Russian government. Then the owner paused and wondered what could be done to stop the suffering and effectuate change in Russia. At the club’s website are the words “Symbolism is not enough … it does not seem fair or smart to boycott a company that has been a friend and ally to the LGBT community here and around the world.” XES is now donating $1 to Amnesty International for every Stoli drink that’s ordered. Instead of excluding themselves from a company based on a negative perception, they are taking action to directly impact those who are suffering in Russia.

At the very least, I invite us all to take a breath the next time we become emotionally impacted by something we read or hear. Before we make a decision on whether to boycott Stoli or stop investing in Monsanto or screen all tobacco companies out of our portfolios, we should go have a drink at XES Lounge and ask ourselves what decision will create the positive impact we most want in the world.

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