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The people behind Marathon: Who is Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin?


26 okt. 2023

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin is one of few investors who has been working as a professional investor in so many different arenas. Beat this: as a venture and buyout investor at Eqvitec, founding and running a long-only global equities fund - later sold to Carnegie, and today running the family office Attfam with a flexible mandate.

We at Marathon are lucky enough to have Mikael as a board member, helping us craft our continued expansion. We particularly appreciate Mikael for his analytical skill set, interest in vertical software acquirers and for his unique breadth. …besides being the kind of person you want to talk to for hours, to just pick his brain on just about anything. 

But who is he really? Let’s find out.

Welcome, Mikael!

David: How did you end up with us at Marathon?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin: Mostly by luck! I have long been interested in the seral acquirer business model, especially in the software space. One day I happened to read an interview with Richard where he described what they were doing at Marathon, so I sent him an email asking if he wanted to meet up. I soon realized that the Marathon team was something special. They had already done five acquisitions and I liked how they approached things like value-creation and culture. I put a lot of emphasis on the quality of the team when investing, and it didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to join the Marathon team as an investor. 

David: Every journey has its milestones. Could you share a defining moment in your life that pushed you to explore the world of investments and finance?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin: Strangely enough, I wasn’t at all interested in investing when I studied Business Administration in Lund. We were taught that the market was “efficient” and that there was no point in trying to make money investing. But then, on a vacation, I had no books to read, and a friend lent me his copy of “Security Analysis” by Benjamin Graham. It changed my career. I was introduced to the concepts of Mr. Market, margin of safety and stocks as part ownerships of businesses that can be analyzed. The thought of being able to make a living by learning about interesting businesses models and companies, while adopting a long-term view and patience almost sounded too good to be true. I decided then and there, by the pool in Barcelona, to become an investor. 

David: Could you share what your investment style is, what you look for and perhaps if there are any aspects where you differ from the traditional investment community?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin: Well, I have worked with different kinds of investment strategies and seen pros and cons with each type, and I have found what works best for me. I invest long-term (meaning with no exit horizon) in great people that operate in markets where there is room for long-term growth. There is no limit in what great entrepreneurs can achieve if they are just allowed to do it. I therefore think that they should be left alone by us finance people, so that they can build great companies.

I also believe that Marathon checks all the boxes of my wishlist.

David: After being active in all types of investments, you do both private and public investments today. What is the big difference, and do they require different skill sets?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin: On a fundamental level I don’t think there is. In both cases you invest in businesses, whose value will depend on their future cashflow generating ability. The biggest difference is that the public market gives you a price each second at which you can sell your holding. That changes people’s behavior and makes them more short-term. 

But if you can ignore that, I believe that the same factors decide your success, the most important being people. 

David: What are some of your sources of inspiration when it comes to improving how to think about your personal or investment life?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin: The persons that has most impacted my thinking about investing are Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. There are few, if any, that have the same long-term track-record as them. I do also believe that they are worth listening to in other matters than investing. Many of their learnings can also be applied to one’s personal life. For example, adopting a long-term approach in decision making is beneficial in both your personal and investment life.  

David: Personal growth often intertwines with professional success. Could you share a skill or quality you've honed over time that you believe has been instrumental in your journey as an investor?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin: I don’t know if I have only honed it, but one thing that I have tried to enable is patience. One part of it is of course your mindset, but I have also tried to create a setting and vehicle that makes it easier to be patient. All public fund managers will have a hard time being patient when their customers can withdraw their money after even the shortest underperformance. Attfam is a permanent capital vehicle with one family as owners. The family’s investment horizon is never-ending. That fact combined with the learnings from all my investment mistakes, where I should have been more patient, has hopefully made me a better investor. 

David: What legacy do you aspire to leave as a key member of Marathon's board, and what do you think are some of the key success factors for Marathon going forward?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin: To be honest I am sure that Richard, Johan and Chris would manage just fine without me. They have done great work already before I was lucky enough to meet them. If they want my opinion on something I will happily share it, but I feel that Marathon is their company, and they are best suited to run it. 

Regarding future success, there are a lot of things that will matter, but I think they all boil down to continuing to work with the best people. 

David: As an investor, you need to be a bit contrarian at times, right? What is your favorite unpopular opinion?

Mikael Tarnawski-Berlin:  True, but you don’t need to be contrarian all the time. You need to wait until you have a contrarian view that you are certain is correct and then act decisively. Those occasions might be few and far between. 

But I do have one opinion, where most private equity investors don’t seem to agree. I think investors should let managers and entrepreneurs be left alone to build great companies. If you, as a board member feel that you are important for the future success of the company, you have the wrong management. Fortunately, that is not a problem that Marathon has!

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