Rock Stars of Finance and How they Got There

I get a lot of questions on how to climb the ladder within the industry and how the CFA designation will help. While there is no singular answer that works for everyone, I do think there are similarities in the paths to success in finance. As an exercise in idol worship, I like to look to some of the careers of those I consider the ‘rock stars’ of our industry for guidance.
Bill Gross, Founder and Managing Director, PIMCO
The Bond King graduated from Duke University with a degree in psychology in 1966. After service in the Navy, he received an MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In an interesting twist, Mr. Gross played blackjack professionally in Las Vegas before joining Pacific Mutual Life as an investment analyst. Gross, along with Bill Podlich and Jim Muzzy, convinced Pacific Mutual to let them actively manage the bond fund in a separate account and Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) is formed in 1971. Gross is a CFA charterholder and was named the Fund Manager of the Decade (2000-2009) by MorningStar.
Neel Kashkari, Managing Director and Head of Global Equities PIMCO
While not a charterholder, I have followed Mr. Kashkari’s insight as managing director at PIMCO and his expertise in helping to lead the country out of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Graduating from the University of Illinoisin 1995 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, and completing his master’s in 1997, he first worked as a design engineer for the aerospace firm TRW. As Vice President, he led the IT Security investment banking team at the San Francisco office of Goldman Sachs after obtaining an MBA from the Wharton School. In 2006, he moved to Washington to serve as the special assistant to the Treasury Secretary followed by a position as the Assistant Secretary for International Economics. Mr. Kashkari served as the Interim Head of the Office of Financial Stability to oversee the TARP program before joining PIMCO in 2009.
Bill Miller, Chairman, Legg Mason Capital Management
After lagging the broader market for five of the last six years to 2011, people have been quick to forget the genius it took for Bill Miller to beat the S&P500 after fees for 15 consecutive years.
Mr. Miller graduated with honors from Lee University with a degree in economics and obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. After serving as a military intelligence officer, he was the treasurer for J.E. Baker, a manufacturer in the steel industry. He joined Legg Mason as the Director of Research in 1981 and co-managed the Legg Mason Capital Value Trust from 1982. A CFA charterholder since 1986, he stepped down as Chief Investment Officer of the company in 2011 and handed over management of the Value Trust to co-manager Sam Peters.
Yeah, but they’re Geniuses. What about Me?
This is obviously not every stop that led these men through amazing careers but I think there are some insights from which a young analyst can learn. Miller and Gross both served in the military, and while service isn’t a requirement I think the discipline you learn in the military is helpful in managing assets when volatility shoots through the roof.
The variety of academic backgrounds shows that there is more than one academic path to success. Rather than an intuitive genius in finance, I think it is the ability to apply the pursuit of knowledge to financial problems that has made these men successful. Researching the three men’s bios and past work, I came across accounts for each one that attested not to their inherent aptitude, but to their strong sense of work and determination. You don’t have to be a genius, you just have to work like one.
Of course, I would like to think that the knowledge and experience gained from their CFA charters helped Miller and Gross through their careers.
I’ll wrap this up here. There are burgers to be grilled and fireworks to be lit.
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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