Mod note (Andy): The much anticipated BlackHat interview is here. Questions came from myself and members of writing and intern teams. BIG thanks to BH for his really in-depth/quality/quick responses. I promise all of you will have some great takeaways from this series.
If you don't know of BlackHat, he has been in the has been one of the most active members on the site this year, and boasts a formidable 173:25 sb:ms ratio.industry for 5 years (broke in straight from ugrad),
Here's how the four part series will go:
- Background / breaking into HF
- HF info + Money & Motivation
- Career advice for all you WSO Monkeys + how he advanced in his career
- General life tips
First Q: How did you break into HF?
(btw, try to keep your questions relevant to the current post as he will have likely already answered it in an upcoming post.)
In college I was pretty sure of what I wanted to do with myself by the time I got into my Junior year, and it was definitely some sort of investing, preferably at a hedge fund since I’d always enjoyed looking for shitty companies as well – yes, that was my reasoning for HF vs. Anyway, I did what everyone else was doing and applied for all the banking jobs and the few PE jobs offering summer , but also a few investing firms that I didn’t put too much thought into. I got interviews at some of the banks, a few of the upper boutiques, one at a megafund PE shop, and another at an investment firm I had never heard of.
Well, turns out I hated most of the guys interviewing me at the banking stints and didn’t care much for the PE place either, and the kinds of questions they were asking me made absolutely no sense to me. I instantly loved the interviewer and their description of the investment firm, and most of our conversation was just about stuff going on in the markets, investment philosophy, and what we thought of certain businesses. I absolutely loved it and ended up taking an offer at this firm, which was a bit of an AM/HF hybrid, but focused intensely on value.
I think I got a really good experience there learning how to develop my own investment thesis from like-minded investors who were – strangely enough – actually happy to help me think through my ideas without seeing any tangible benefit for themselves. Not sure how many of those shops are left on Wall Street, but I was lucky enough to land at one out of college. From there, I got a call one day from a headhunter asking if I wanted to take a job at what was a pretty hot hedge fund at the time, and I said why not. I liked the guys there and knew someone who worked there already, so I think I kind of fooled myself into taking the job because it offered better pay and an opportunity to finally be in a ‘pure’ HF. Looking back I regret that decision, but it helped me get where I am now I guess, so whatever.
After about 1-1.5 years there I couldn’t take it anymore, saw the writing on the wall, and got back in touch with the headhunter who poached me from before. Luckily my skill set as a deep-value focused guy was pretty well-defined and he referred me to a fund that put a heavy emphasis on concentration and value, and I took an interview there despite the fact that they weren’t hiring (but apparently they never are). I ended up finishing the interview with the PM telling me “well, we like you. Nice meeting you. Bye.” My headhunter got in touch to see how the interview went and I told him about how it ended, and he said that was their way of offering me a job… strange, but I called them back up and said “Let’s do it!” and here I am now. I love where I’m at now, I got the opportunity to move up quickly, and I’m essentially running my own money now so I couldn’t have asked for more freedom than I got here.
Did you go to a non-target, semi-target, or target school?
I guess I went to a “target” but I hate calling it that. As some of you know I’m not afraid to say I went to Penn, specifically Wharton for those of you who need to make that distinction. It was a great school, helped out immensely with recruiting since it was one of 2-3 schools the place I interned at recruited, and even though I would have had much more fun at a Big Ten school I never regretted the decision. That said, I’ll never give a dime to those guys for screwing my dad so hard on financial aid. They’ve got more than enough from me and my family.
How did your background best prepare you for where you're at now?
I guess I’ve always been a pretty inquisitive person, always interested in the way businesses worked and all that crap that most people say about why they like investing. But outside of that, I think growing up in a competitive household, playing sports and being constantly put in situations that forced me to compare myself to other people kind of pushed me towards working in an environment like a hedge fund. We’re constantly trying to figure out what we can find out that nobody else is going to think about that will give us an edge, and for me personally I think having that mindset from a young age helps me look for the right things when I’m evaluating a business.
I also think it’s helped me be a really goodof character, and that’s an often overlooked part of the business when it comes to assessing management and finding well-run companies. Sometimes you can tell when management is full of shit and when something is legitimate, and just being around people and having to discern the difference in my social life was another thing that helped me prepare for the role I’m in now. We were a very superficial and socially-elite neighborhood, albeit we had no reason to be so stuck up.
You mentioned drugs and a near-death experience in a previous post, do you care to talk about how that’s affected your life?
(see below for tl;dr version) Sure. It’s a lot longer of a story than this, but back in high school I started getting pretty seriously depressed, and not because anything in particular ever happened, just because I was the kind of person who just thought too much and for whatever reason dwelled on the pessimistic and what was bad in the world. Things always came easily to me and I still never enjoyed any of the supposedly ‘good’ things going on in my life, so seeing the rest of my friends and the people around me enjoying the most mundane things got me really depressed. It’s a lot more complicated than that but for the sake of length I’ll move on. Anyway, I started doing a lot of drugs in high school with a girl I’d been seeing who was equally unhappy with her life, and from there things pretty much spiraled out of control. By sophomore year of college I had pretty much done every drug under the sun and had a legitimate addiction to one in particular.
My parents ended up finding out when I came home for the summer and they went as far as to send me to rehab, which was the worst place in the world. I don’t know how many of you have any idea what most rehabs are like, but they’re not great places unless you’re a celebrity apparently. Anyway, in rehab I got so depressed and felt so cut off that I had this idea that I’d just kill myself, so I got ahold of the only thing I could – a 500 count bottle of Tylenol ExtraStrength. To this day I still can’t even see the label on that stuff without it absolutely breaking me down. So I was later told that I ingested 180 of these bad boys, and luckily someone from the staff noticed me and I got rushed to the. I’ll spare you the details but it was an extremely unpleasant process.
Once I got out of the hospital my parents took me home and I spent a few weeks with them before going back to school. Now that I think back on it I really didn’t spend much time at all back home, that was probably a terrible idea sending me back like that. Anyway, that experience and how quickly it turned around and everything was almost ‘back to normal’ in the outside world kind of made me realize how … not-special I was. I ended up adopting that perspective on things and it actually helped me to kind of embrace who I was and the way I thought about things. Society had a name for me, I was “depressed,” but I don’t see why that’s a good or bad thing, it’s just a thing. Seeing the world the way I did wasn’t a big deal, and if it was how I was gonna function for the rest of my life I figured I might as well make the best of it. Since then I’ve still occasionally used but always in as responsible a way as one can use, and it hasn’t affected me negatively ever since. That’s not to say that it won’t in the future, but I’m okay with that, as I’m okay with depression or not caring if I’m alive or dead, or anything else.
The tl;dr version of that entire story is that I made some big mistakes early on but ended up finding a way to use those to figure out who I was, then do the best I could with it to get what would satisfy me out of life. If anything, seeing the world this way makes you a much more objective, albeit often unemotional, observer. That definitely helps me at work, but I’m not trying to paint that into being a plus. Speaking of emotion, it wasn’t the end of the world for me because I ended up finding someone who understood me as well as I understood myself, and all that emotion that I hadn’t had in so long kind of came back to me. So if any of these things sound familiar to you, know that there’s hope for us yet.