Cody Willard: Running others’ money is not a game for idiots

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For the past five years of running money I didn’t even have an alarm clock. There was no need. The knot in my gut that came with the pressure of running other people’s money swelled long before the sun rose each morning.

For four and a half years I was up and attentive at every single market opening. Such steadfast dedication was exhilarating . . . and exhausting. Running money is unlike any other job because you can quantify your results at any moment. And then you and your investors can gauge just how stupid or smart you are at that moment.

Of course, a good money manager never really thinks he’s smart – there’s no place on Wall Street for successful complacency. You lost money? You’re an idiot. You had a good streak but still underperformed a booming market? You’re an idiot. You blew away the market but had too many hedges, which capped the gain? Yup, you’re an idiot.

The fact is that sometimes we all underperform. From Bill Gross to Bill Miller to Bill Gates, everybody goes through streaks where they can’t keep up with even the broader market. We’re all idiots.

About a year ago, I started pulling back from being as aggressively long as I had been. I started sending money back to some of the family and friends who had so graciously bet on me. But I’ve been writing and talking about my Echo Techo Bubble and how best to play it (being long lots of long-dated, out-of-the-money calls in the best tech names such as Google and Apple) for a year or so, and some of my investors wanted to at least have some play money exposed to that.

By the time I accepted a position as an anchor at Fox Business Network, I’d whittled down my exposure and that of my investors from where it had been for most of the past few years. I figured the size of the knot in my gut was directly proportional to the exposure we had in the market.

But I forgot about how stupid you feel when you underperform. And underperform I did for most of September and October, just as I was heading into my new Fox gig. And I know how we all can and sometimes do underperform. Could I imagine going every day to the Bull & Bear at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC, where Rebecca Gomez and I anchor Happy Hour, and trying to have a blast and performing and developing a new and fun type of business news programme, while feeling like an idiot?

On top of it all, I realised I couldn’t focus the time and energy that my investors deserve as this anchor job requires every bit of time and energy I can muster.

So I’m out. I’m out of the business of running other people’s money. For the first time in many years, I’m not long Google or Apple or any other tech stock.

I did keep CL Willard Capital Management, LLC, as we are actively building a mutual fund that will invest only in the most war-torn places in an effort to create self-sustaining virtuous cycles in places such as Darfur. And I will still run my RevolutioNetwork and plan to continue writing for the Financial Times and others.

But since this column is all about money management insight and since I’m not managing money now, this is my last Inside Curve column.


The writer is an anchor at Fox Business Network

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