Donald E. Conrad didn't plan on having a career in finance. As an aspiring percussionist, Conrad found himself working as a salesman for Benjamin Moore & Co.
"It was a good job, too," he told StreetID. "I had an expense account, a company car, a decent salary. I was at the high end of my peer group. But I was not happy because I felt that my salary was not commensurate with my work ethic. In other words, the harder I worked, I just couldn't get any further because of the nature of the position."
Conrad said that he would have been forced to "literally wait for someone to die or retire" in order to move up in the company. Alternatively, he could have shifted to management. "I didn't want to do that," he said.
One day Conrad decided to answer an ad in his local paper. "I met this guy at this company," he said. "I was really impressed by his knowledge and what he was doing and decided to take a chance. So I left the [paint] business and went to a job that was straight commission at a company called First Investors. I actually was baking bagels on the side to make ends meet."
Conrad attended junior college but never received a four-year degree. "I was able to learn what I needed to know to serve my clients on the job, through the firms that I worked at, and through the licensing that I got and the training programs that were available," he said. And while Conrad strongly recommends that individuals get a formal education, he understands that not everyone has that option.
"Work hard and be a sponge," Conrad advised. "Listen to everything and learn as much as you can. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you in areas that you want to learn from. Don't be afraid to invest your time in something that might not have an immediate return. That's where opportunities create themselves, usually."
Whatever happens, Conrad said that you have to be prepared to make sacrifices. "Don't rationalize," he warned. "If you're rationalizing, something's wrong. And don't expect it to happen the way you want it to, because it doesn't. But if it's something that you want to do, don't ever second-guess yourself, because you can do it. I really believe that."
Conrad's efforts paid off. He is now the Founder and President of Conrad Capital Management.
Getting Started Without a Degree
How can someone break into finance without a proper degree? Use what is available.
"They have training programs at a lot of the firms, and if the larger firms are turning you away, you can go to the next-level firm," said Conrad. "And if the next-level national firms turn him away, I would go to the regional firms. Show your passion, and if you convey that, you're gonna find somebody that will take a chance."
Conrad said that if this what you really want to do, "you have to make it your mission to find and get in front of as many people as it takes to find the right person that you're gonna bond with and is going to appreciate the tenacity and the passion you put behind the search."
"And that's gonna come across and that person is gonna take a chance [on you]," Conrad explained. "I don't care what your degrees are in. If I was going to hire somebody that I need to market for me -- and don't get me wrong, but in my opinion, tenacity, honesty, passion, communication skills [and] people skills trump any education."
"They could have a master's in marketing, but if they're not good at utilizing the skill sets that are necessary to get the business, what does it mean?" Conrad questioned, adding that there are a number of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies that don't have a formal education.
Launching a Fund
With or without a degree, aspiring hedge fund managers need to "surround themselves with the brightest people they can [and be] totally transparent and honest -- both to themselves and the system," said Conrad.
Hedge fund managers need to be prepared to "give up everything to make it work," he said. "And that's within reason. Hopefully they're well-capitalized, because one of the worst things you can do is be under-capitalized. That happens in a number of different ways. It depends on if you're partnering with someone, or if someone gives you seed capital, or if you're using your own capital. Be prepared to do whatever you have to do -- within reason -- to complete your vision."
Last but not least, Conrad advises that managers complete a business plan before they start. "They should have done thorough research on costs, demographics, locations -- all of the basic stuff."
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