Note: This post was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Value Investing Almanack (VIA). To read more such such insights on behavioural finance and other deep thoughts on value investing and business analysis, click here to subscribe to VIA.
When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident…of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.
Those were the words of E.J. Smith, captain of RMS Titanic, the ship that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage, drowning 1500. Out of 2200 people onboard only 700 could be saved.
Since it has never happened in the past it’s unlikely to happen in the future. That’s perhaps the most dangerous assumption to make when the stakes are high. Smith’s mistake wasn’t in failing to predict the disaster. No one could have. His blunder was in not preparing for it.
On Titanic, there weren’t enough lifeboats for 2200 people. To add insult to an injury, the lifeboats actually had the capacity for more than 700 people but in confusion to get the ladies and the children first, many lifeboats were lowered partially filled. They hadn’t practiced the emergency evacuation protocols properly.