Geoff Gannon December 8, 2010

What Jobs Prepare You for Running a Value Fund? – Geoff’s Advice to a College Senior

A reader sent me this email:

I am currently a senior in college and well underway with my job search. I have, since grade school, been devoted to the works of those prominent within value investing…Since about the same time I have managed a personal portfolio geared toward their ideas. Ideally, I see myself within the next ten years starting a value-oriented hedge fund. The issue that I have been pressed with lately is what type of job to get now, knowing… managing people’s money through a fund is eventually what I want to be doing…do you have any perspective or advice in terms of the types of jobs that would better prepare me for eventually running my own fund?

It’s hard to know what experience will be worthwhile.

Graham started as a bond salesman. He was a terrible salesman. But he learned Lawrence Chamberlain’s bond book. You can read Graham’s early writings and see that all Graham really did was apply the ideas of bond investing to common stock investing. That was revolutionary. If Graham had learned stock investing the way it was practiced in his day, would he have taken the same revolutionary approach?

Probably not.

Peter Lynch was an analyst. That probably taught him how to run a fund his way. Lynch was big on meeting with management and finding the exact moment when a company’s fortunes were turning. That’s analyst stuff.

Charlie Munger was a lawyer. Michael Burry was a doctor. What does this tell us? Nothing really. The important thing is that at some point you get completely and totally focused on investing. What you did professionally – even if it was in finance – is often very secondary. It might be meaningless. A lot of investors learned more in their off hours than at their job.

But can you combine learning investing and a career?

You can certainly try.

Here’s how…

Find people you respect. Phil Fisher was not a value guy. Warren Buffett had a lot of respect for him. Try to work for someplace you think does what they do well.

My other advice is to choose someplace smaller and younger.

You can always go to a bigger place later. If you have a choice, pick someplace where they might actually let you do something. Go someplace where there’s more work than workers.

And then just stay in touch with all the value people you meet. Don’t just send me one email. Keep emailing me whenever you have an idea.

Write down the names of any bloggers, analysts, reporters, fund managers, anyone you come across that you respect. You like an insight of theirs or whatever. Write the name down and keep the name. Contact them. If you can make it about a specific stock and tell them something they don’t know, they’ll listen. Keep talking. Do the maximum amount of socially acceptable conversing about stocks.

Make it a rule to never say “no”. If someone asks you to do anything investing related – whether it’s for pay or not – always say yes. You’ll learn something. They’ll remember your name.

Your best bet in any industry is to find people you respect and then figure out a way to do them a favor. Repeat that over and over while working at whatever job pays the bills. Write an investing blog. Manage your own account. You’ll do fine.

By the way, the most important thing you did was get into stocks at a young age. If you’ve been reading about Buffett and Graham and buying stocks for yourself since before you were in high school, you will be successful as a professional value investor.

How skilled you are at investing is mostly a result of how long and intensely you’ve practiced. A lot of great value investors were very good when they were very young. They just weren’t recognized at the time.

Talk to Geoff about an Investing Career