I grew up in upstate New York. I was a late talker and couldn't read until fourth grade. It turns out I was dyslexic, but my school didn't know much about this condition in the 1970s. I went to a learning center after school, which I resented terribly. I only settled down when my parents promised me a Snickers bar and a grape soda after each session.
Having dyslexia had a big impact on me socially, and it was a challenge to navigate the academic world. Still, I spent my last two years of high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1990, took a year off after my freshman year in college to travel around East Africa, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and earned a masters degree in French and international tax law from The Sorbonne. If you have dyslexia, your brain is hard wired a certain way. You learn to think your way through it, although it still catches me. For example, I might say Hill and Billary instead of Bill and Hillary.
From 1993 to 1998, I worked for Cleary Gottlieb in Paris and New York, and then I started the financial planning business at Sanford C. Bernstein. From 1999 to 2008, I worked for Bear Stearns, becoming co-head of Advisory Services. I joined UBS in 2008 as head of Wealth Management Strategies, which has several areas: Manager and Fund Due Diligence, Portfolio Advisory Group, Portfolio Strategy Group and Wealth Planning. My main job is running the investment strategy area. My team receives the economic and market views from the investment committee, of which I'm a member, and develops that information into an investment and portfolio strategy. In financial services, we are in the storytelling business. There's such a large volume of information and opinion that even if it's useful and accurate, unless you can explain it in a way that's entertaining and interesting, no one will listen.
I've called volatility the fourth asset class. It can be used in two ways: One, you can sell volatility and create income by means of puts and calls, or two, you can buy volatility during relatively calm periods when it's somewhat inexpensive. When the market becomes calamitous and there's a crisis, volatility goes back up. It acts as a hedge to your portfolio.
Our industry and the world change so quickly that we have to constantly reinvent ourselves and reexamine the premises we rely on in servicing clients. That means managers and advisors have to continually engage in self-reflection. When I was at Bernstein, the idea of market timing was anathema. We've learned that you can't time the markets all the time, but you have to try to understand when different areas of the markets are likely to reward investors and other areas are likely to punish them.
In my free time, I like to sail out of Cape Cod. I have an 18-foot wooden boat named Bluebird that I had made for me. I'm hoping to build boats myself in retirement.
As Told To Pat Olsen
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