The wealth of Wallin

Broadcaster trusts friend with life savings.

National post, October 30, 2000   

Most of us can only amuse ourselves by daydreaming about what we would do with a million bucks. So does Pamela Wallin, the host of the Canadian edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? But she knows exactly what she would do if she won that kind of money.


“I believe you should pay off debt. That is the first thing I would do: Pay off debts and mortgages. That would be my first strategy. But before that, I would make sure I had the advice of a trusted advisor,” she says. “[I am] pretty conservative. I’m not saying I grew up putting the money in the mattress — it was the credit union.”


Maybe that is why Ms. Wallin turns to Michael Decter, who is, in his words, “a friend in long standing,” to pick stocks for her. “It’s a lot better than having a stranger manage your portfolio,” she says. Besides, Mr. Decter has pretty good instincts, even though he started working in the investment business only a couple of years ago. Before that, Mr. Decter held a number of senior management positions in health care, including a stint as Ontario’s deputy minister of health.


Now, Mr. Decter is president of Lawrence Decter Investment Counsel in Toronto. And his partner, Jack Lawrence, is one of the most respected dealmakers on Bay Street.


Lawrence Decter caters to the investment needs of a select group of 60 clients, both large institutions and individual clients, like Ms. Wallin. “His philosophy is really the same [as mine]. Invest in what you know, similar to Warren Buffett and Peter Lynch,” Ms. Wallin says.


“We’re value investors and stock pickers,” Mr. Decter explains. “We’re not momentum players, and we don’t match major indices. We want solid companies that look like they’ll be profitable going into the future.”


So what stocks is Mr. Decter buying for his clients?


He likes natural gas companies such as Alberta Energy Co. (AEC/TSE), Talisman Energy Inc. (TLM/TSE) and Search Energy Corp. (SGY/TSE). Those look good, he says, because the price of natural gas has doubled in the past year.


Outside the energy sector, Mr. Decter is keen on CHC Helicopter Corp. (FLY.A/TSE) and FirstService Corp. (FSV/TSE), a Toronto-based property management company. In the United States, Mr. Decter has his eye on Visteon Corp. (VC/NYSE), a spin-off from Ford’s parts division, and Tenet Healthcare Corp. (THC/NYSE).


Not all of Ms. Wallin’s investments are winners. Take, for example, Chapters Inc. (CHP/TSE). The bookseller’s shares have taken a beating on the market. Chapters shares now trade at $10.45 — a big drop from the $31.50 it was trading at a year ago.


In spite of Chapter’s poor performance, Ms. Wallin says she is a “believer” in the company. “I do think in a sense you have to go with what you know, and trust your instincts,” she says.


Ms. Wallin says about half her money is in equities — mostly blue chips, with some tech holdings to keep things interesting without being too risky.


Does her day job asking people questions make her a better informed or more inquisitive investor? “I’m not jumping up at board meetings. But research is fundamental to everything we do. I make sure I’ve done my homework before any interview. I try to approach everything that way.”


And people frequently volunteer information, Ms. Wallin says. “It’s one of the joys of being on television — people recognize you and talk to you a lot. It’s fairly easy for us to spot the difference between a trend and the flavor-of-the-month. Look at the bigger economic picture. What are we always going to need in this country as opposed to scooters.”


Aside from her investment portfolio, Ms. Wallin also has a stake in a number of ventures: there’s her own production company, Pamela Wallin Productions; a content deal with; and the News Theatre, a Toronto news conference and media facility in which Ms. Wallin is a partner. She is also co-owns a hair salon in her hometown of Wadena, Sask., with her sister.


With all of this activity, you would think that Ms. Wallin’s investment portfolio would be bulging. But she says otherwise. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a million dollars to invest — wouldn’t I love to,” she says. Maybe, with Mr. Decter’s help, she will. Some day.