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Understanding Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Financial Strategy

Understanding Prem Watsa's Fairfax Financial Strategy


In the world of value investing, few names stand out as much as Prem Watsa, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Fairfax Financial Holdings. Often referred to as the ‘Warren Buffet of Canada’, Watsa has managed to carve a niche for himself and his company in the financial world with his unique investment strategy.

Watsa is a product of a humble background, born and raised in Hyderabad, India. He moved to Canada in the mid-70s, where he pursued an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. His passion for finance and investment led him to establish Fairfax Financial in 1985, a company he has since grown into a global financial powerhouse.

The Fairfax Financial Story

Fairfax Financial Holdings is a Toronto-based financial services firm that provides property and casualty insurance, reinsurance, and investment management among other services. Since its inception, Fairfax has written cumulative premiums of $229 billion, demonstrating the trust and confidence clients place in the company.

Fairfax’s success is largely attributed to Watsa’s investment strategy which draws inspiration from his idol, Warren Buffet. Similar to Buffet, Watsa believes in value investing – buying stocks and other assets that appear underpriced. This investment approach has helped Fairfax to weather financial storms and consistently deliver returns to its shareholders.

The Watsa and Fairfax Financial Connection

Watsa’s journey with Fairfax Financial is a testimony to his leadership, business acumen, and commitment to ethical leadership. Owning approximately 10% of Fairfax, Watsa’s wealth is almost entirely tied to the company’s success.

His control over Fairfax is further solidified by the 10-for-1 multiple voting shares that give him just over 50% ownership of the firm. This allows him to steer the company’s direction and ensure that its operations align with his value investing principles.

Under Watsa’s leadership, Fairfax has not only expanded its core business of insurance but has also made significant strides in investment management. This has been primarily achieved through its subsidiary, Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel Ltd, and strategic collaborations with other companies for investment and acquisition endeavors.

At the heart of Fairfax’s and Watsa’s success is a robust investment strategy that prioritizes long-term value over short-term gains. This strategy, coupled with a sound understanding of market dynamics, has positioned Fairfax as a leader in the financial services industry.

As we delve deeper into Prem Watsa’s investment strategy at Fairfax Financial, the aim is to decode the methods, principles, and philosophies that have guided his decisions. The goal is to empower both novice and experienced investors with insights that can help them navigate the complex world of stock investment. So, buckle up as we journey into the mind of one of the most successful value investors of our time.

Overview of Prem Watsa’s Investment Philosophy

Prem Watsa, often referred to as the “Canadian Warren Buffet,” has crafted a unique and effective investment strategy that has been instrumental in the growth and success of Fairfax Financial. This philosophy is rooted in principles of value investing, patience, and in-depth research.

Principles of Value Investing

At the heart of Watsa’s investment philosophy lies value investing, a concept initially popularized by Benjamin Graham. This approach involves seeking stocks trading for less than their intrinsic values. Value investors like Watsa aim to capitalize on inefficiencies in the market, buying these undervalued stocks and holding onto them until the market corrects the price.

In line with this philosophy, Watsa focuses on investing in companies run by trustworthy individuals with a proven track record, operating with the highest integrity, and taking a long-term view. He firmly believes in the potential of companies that are financially sound yet undervalued by the market. This principle has been a guidepost for Watsa, as seen in his numerous successful investments over the years. For a more detailed exploration of Prem Watsa’s value investing principles.

Patience and Discipline

Another cornerstone of Prem Watsa’s investment strategy is his emphasis on patience and discipline. Unlike many investors who get swayed by short-term market trends or sudden fluctuations, Watsa stays committed to his investments for the long term. He believes in the importance of allowing investments to mature over time, even if they don’t immediately yield high returns. This long-term viewpoint allows him to overlook short-term volatility and focus on the bigger picture.

Watsa’s discipline is equally noteworthy. Despite market pressures or popular opinion, he remains steadfast in his investment decisions. This discipline is reflected in the consistency with which he applies his value investing principles, leading to Fairfax Financial’s prolonged success in the market.

Identifying Investment Opportunities

Prem Watsa’s keen eye for identifying promising investment opportunities is another crucial aspect of his investment philosophy. He values the leadership and integrity of the people running the company, as well as the company’s financial stability.

Watsa’s approach to identifying investment opportunities is meticulous and thorough. He believes in doing his homework before investing, involving detailed research and analysis. This rigorous process allows him to find profitable opportunities in companies that others may perceive as risky or unsalvageable.

Influence on Fairfax Financial’s Investments

Watsa’s philosophy has significantly shaped Fairfax Financial’s investment approach. The company follows a value-oriented strategy, aiming for above-average returns over the long term.

This philosophy has also influenced Fairfax’s acquisition policy. Watsa favors fair and friendly acquisitions that align with the company’s overall objectives and values. This approach extends to how the acquired companies are run, where the presidents run the operations, maintaining a decentralized structure. Only performance evaluation, succession planning, acquisitions, financing, and investments are done by or with Fairfax.

In conclusion, Prem Watsa’s investment philosophy, centered around value investing, patience, discipline, and thorough research, has not only contributed to his success as an investor but also shaped the investment strategy of Fairfax Financial. It serves as a timeless guide for both novice and experienced investors navigating the intricacies of the stock market.

Key Investments of Prem Watsa and Fairfax Financial

In the world of investing, few names command the same respect as Prem Watsa. As the Chairman and CEO of Fairfax Financial, Watsa has helmed some of the most significant and transformative investments in recent history. This article will delve into some of these key investments and unpack the strategy behind them.

Major Stakes in BlackBerry and GE

Under Watsa’s astute leadership, Fairfax Financial made headline-grabbing investments in BlackBerry and GE. These weren’t just aimless punts; they were strategic moves backed by Watsa’s robust understanding of value investing. For instance, when BlackBerry was struggling, it was Watsa who saw the residual value in the company and made a calculated bet. Similarly, investing in GE, a stalwart of American industry, reflected a belief in the company’s enduring value amidst temporary struggles.

Global Expansion: A Strategic Move

Fairfax under Watsa’s helm is not just confined to North America. The company’s footprint extends to several countries worldwide, including Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Brazil, Poland, Malaysia, Singapore, Barbados, Hong Kong, and India. This global expansion isn’t just about spreading bets; it’s a core part of the company’s investment strategy. By diversifying geographically, Fairfax can mitigate risks and tap into the growth potential of different economies.

Economic Empowerment and Risk Mitigation

One of the underlying motives behind Fairfax’s investments is economic empowerment. By investing in economically disadvantaged areas, Fairfax is not only helping these communities but also capitalizing on regions with high growth potential. This strategic approach is a win-win, creating value for both the invested companies and Fairfax Financial.

Risk mitigation is another key aspect of Fairfax’s investment strategy. This is achieved through diversification across different asset classes, industries, maturities, geographical locations, and market caps. Such a broad spread lessens the impact of market shocks, protecting investors from unexpected risks.

Strategic Investments and Safety Measures

Fairfax’s portfolio also includes strategic investments aimed at advancing specific national priorities. These include sectors such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, information technology, and clean energy technologies.

Moreover, safety is a cornerstone of Watsa’s investment strategy. By investing at a discount, Fairfax provides a cushion for when things go wrong, thereby offering a safety net for investors. This approach is a direct reflection of Watsa’s principles of value investing, which you can learn more about in our article [(Prem Watsa’s Investment Principles)][/prem-watsa-investment-principles].

Utilizing Incentives and Foreign Investment

Some of Fairfax’s investments are driven by government incentives and direct investments, such as tax credits for renewable energy or grants to modernize the electrical grid. These incentives often present attractive investment opportunities that align with Fairfax’s overall strategy.

Foreign investment is another crucial part of Fairfax’s diversification strategy. Investing in foreign securities provides additional diversification benefits and offers protection against losses during an American economic downturn.

Performance of Investments

The performance of Fairfax’s investments under Watsa’s leadership has been generally positive, although it varies based on the time frame, type of investment, and market conditions. Value investing, a core principle of Watsa’s approach, has been particularly successful, with value stocks outperforming growth stocks and the market as a whole over long periods. That being said, short-term performance can be erratic, and regular review is crucial to ensure investments align with the investor’s circumstances and risk tolerance.

In conclusion, the key investments of Prem Watsa and Fairfax Financial showcase a robust investment strategy that combines value investing, geographic and industry diversification, strategic investments, and risk mitigation. This approach has helped Fairfax Financial grow into a global property and casualty insurance and reinsurance company operating in more than 100 countries.


In the grand tapestry of investment narratives, the tale of Prem Watsa and his helm at Fairfax Financial provides a robust and nuanced framework that both novice and seasoned investors can glean valuable insights from. This story encapsulates strategic value investing, long-term thinking, and commitment to community reinvestment- all of which are pivotal elements to a successful investment strategy.

The Essence of Value Investing

Prem Watsa’s investment strategy is fundamentally rooted in the principles of value investing. By diligently assessing the intrinsic value of stocks and patiently waiting for the right moment to invest, Watsa ensures that Fairfax Financial’s investments are not just profitable in the short-term, but also sustainable in the long run. This approach allows him to identify undervalued stocks and capitalize on them, thus providing a roadmap for individual investors on how to approach the stock market with a discerning eye and calculated patience.

The Power of Diversification

Watsa’s bold and strategic diversification across various sectors is another key takeaway from Fairfax Financial’s investment strategy. By spreading his investments across different industries and geographic locations, Watsa mitigates risk and creates a balanced portfolio that can weather market fluctuations. This is a crucial lesson for individual investors, emphasizing the importance of not putting all your eggs in one basket, but rather creating a diverse portfolio that can provide a steady return on investment.

Long-term Thinking & Community Reinvestment

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Prem Watsa’s investment philosophy is his commitment to long-term shareholder value and community reinvestment. Watsa’s decision to invest heavily in his own firm, coupled with Fairfax’s pledge to give back to the communities it operates in, underscores an investment approach that values sustainability and social responsibility. This serves as a powerful reminder to individual investors about the importance of aligning investment decisions not just with financial goals, but also with personal values and societal impact.

By delving into Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Financial strategy, investors can glean invaluable lessons on value investing, strategic diversification, and long-term thinking. In an era of quick trades and fleeting market trends, Watsa’s approach serves as a refreshing testament to the enduring relevance of patience, discipline, and a keen understanding of intrinsic value in the world of stock investments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Prem Watsa’s Net Worth

You might be wondering who is Prem Watsa and what is his net worth? To answer that, Prem Watsa, the man behind the success of Fairfax Financial, holds an estimated net worth of about one billion US dollars. His successful career as an investor, coupled with his strategic decision-making abilities, contributed to his substantial wealth.

Journey to Success

When it comes to the question of how Prem Watsa became successful, the answer lies in a blend of factors. Watsa’s success story is not about overnight success; it is a tale of resilience, perseverance, and academic excellence. He was a top student, majoring in chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, one of India’s premier engineering institutes.

His initial setback, when he failed to secure admission to the Indian Institute of Management, did not deter him. He studied harder, reapplied, and was accepted to the prestigious institution. Furthermore, his move to North America, specifically Canada, played a crucial role in his success. The opportunities he found in the region were pivotal in shaping his career.

A significant part of Watsa’s success can be attributed to his positive mindset, honed by the influential book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. This book, which he read at the age of 21, instilled in him the principle that ‘what the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.’ Watsa’s values of honesty, integrity, and hard work, combined with faith and family, have also been integral to his journey.

Moreover, Watsa’s business acumen is remarkable. He built Fairfax Financial Holdings, a $12 billion insurance empire, from the ground up in Canada. His entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen set him apart and paved the way for his success.

Value Investing: The Core of Watsa’s Strategy

One of the most asked questions by novice and seasoned investors alike is about value investing. What is it? Simply put, value investing is an investment strategy that focuses on buying stocks trading for less than their intrinsic or book value. The idea is that the market often overreacts to certain news, causing stock prices to deviate from the company’s long-term fundamentals. This overreaction provides an opportunity for savvy investors to buy stocks at discounted prices.

This strategy was initially introduced by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd and later popularized by investors like Warren Buffett. Prem Watsa is one of those investors who swears by value investing. He believes in identifying undervalued stocks and holding onto them for the long term. The principle of building a margin of safety into all investments, meaning buying stocks at a price significantly lower than their intrinsic value, is also an integral part of this strategy.