My background is in law as a tax lawyer. As a young lawyer, I saw that several of the more prominent partners in the firm left the practice of law to pursue investment-related careers. It seemed to me that managing money could be both more lucrative and provide a better quality of life than being a tax partner. My area of practice was tax-exempt retirement plans. As a pension lawyer, I was exposed to a lot of investment management people, and I developed a fascination for investing. This was the late 1970s — personal computers and spreadsheet software for the first time made it possible for an individual investor to analyze mountains of data. I had a background in computer programming from my time as a cadet in the Air Force Academy, and using Lotus 123 programming, I found ways to profitably time market trends. Soon I was making a lot more investing my own assets than I could possibly make as an attorney, and I make the leap to leave the practice of law and set up my own investment management company. I’ve always limited my investing to trading my own capital, which has given me a level of independence and freedom of choice that most investment managers don’t enjoy.
Because I am my own, and only, investment client, I normally have the luxury of setting my schedule to suit my interests. I spend a lot of my time writing programs that analyze investment ideas. I have a virtual assistant that spends her full time looking for investment ideas and researching investment topics that I feel might be productive. There are very few truly original ideas, so there is no shame in building on someone else’s ideas. I normally spend 2 hours a day working out, and I think staying fit makes me more productive.
I try to focus on one idea at a time. Really good ideas are difficult to come by, so if you divide your attention among several competing ideas, you probably (a) don’t fully develop any single idea as well as you should, and (b) dilute your return potential by funding less than optimal strategies. It’s often said that diversification is the only free lunch. I disagree. If you have developed an edge in one area of investing, then diversification can be one of the most expensive items on the menu because it normally draws your returns to the mean. Of course, if you don’t have an investment idea with a true edge, then diversification may be your only option.
Always wear sunscreen.
If you have a strong investment edge, go all-in on a single idea.
Always follow your algorithms and stay the course. No investment idea works all the time. If you have thoroughly developed a trading algorithm, follow it. You are not smarter on any given day than the insight you have gained from hundreds of hours of research, so don’t assume you can beat your algorithms with ad hoc modifications.
I do most of my analytical programming using Lotus 123. Lotus 123 dates back to 1982, and its owner, IBM, no longer supports the program, but I’ve spent more than 30,000 hours using the Lotus macro programming language, and it works for me. It’s certainly not the fastest running software, but I have a bank of 7 servers that I connect to, and I’m often running ideas on multiple servers for days at a time. What I love about the Lotus 123 programming language is that I have used it for so long that it really has become an extension of the way I think about ideas.
The Bible. I start each day by reading a chapter from the New Testament. I think the basic premise of the Bible is to love your neighbor as you love yourself, and if we all did that, I believe it would make the world a much better place.
There are several quotes that I really like:
- A theory is more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises. Albert Einstein
- Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler. Albert Einstein
- Diversification is protection against ignorance. Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing. Warren Buffett
- It isn’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It is what you know for sure that just isn’t so. Mark Twain