War Dogs & China

I’m writing this in Beijing feeling a bit hazy from the jet lag. And also maybe hazy on the topics at large that I’d like to discuss.

Not much has changed factually in my life recently – same job, same living arrangements, same hobbies – but for whatever reason my perception of my life has changed dramatically. I’m less satisfied than before.

Some of this stems from my work. Although I continue to put up apparently satisfactory results as an investor, I am cognizant of a few potential issues if my day-to-day continues in identical fashion.

One, I will not have multidisciplinary skills outside my core focus. I worry that this will make me a worse investor over time per Munger’s “man with a hammer” mental model.

Two, I don’t believe my current position at my firm allows me to truly benefit from compounding..which I think I understand in the deep sense as a piling  up of little advantages over time. My level of patience as an investor ($ tomorrow same as today) will never be rewarded as capital is pulled away from me. And I think my ability stay in the game and compile 30 year track record will not benefit me the way that it should, as it is embedded in a firm that may not have that staying  power.

Three, I have some concerns about the rising institutionalization and layers of bureaucracy at my firm.

I also have broader concerns about investing as a whole. Namely, whether I am working on the cutting edge and how to make my skills as an investor into a force for positive change. But I do enjoy being an investor.

Where these concerns lead me is yet to be seen but they remain in the back of my mind.

In many ways, my professional dissatisfaction may be tied to my personal relationships.

I’ve still yet to enter into a meaningful serious relationship. A terrific personal relationship would probably encourage me to be less restless as it pertains to my career. Conversely, perhaps it’s my fear of being tied down before I achieve anything that keeps a high bar on any personal relationship.

Or, an alternative connection between the career and the personal – perhaps I am not as good as I should be at generating serendipity – unexpected meetings that lead to lollapalooza results (hearing about a new career opportunity or finding a special person). Serendipity is almost 100% a function of meeting and charming the right people (and of having the right skills). If true, feeling like I haven’t found the right career opportunities and not being in a relationship trace back to the same personal fault.

Serendipity and luck are important. I reflected on this while sitting in a meeting full of Chinese investors. It’s likely that they could do my job nearly as well as I could – it’s not that hard. But a combination of 1) they may not know about the niche that I operate in and 2) that no one might ever take the risk on them to give them money to manage in this niche bars them from ever entering. Serendipitous that I happened to run into my firm; lucky that I was born in the United States.

The movie War Dogs was terrific. Someone out there probably feels the same way about War Dogs that I feel about The Big Short or Moneyball – overdramatized, somewhat factually inaccurate and misses some key nuances of the story. But on the flip side, I guess I know how a non-finance viewer of The Big Short may have felt.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the story and I loved the story here. As an investor, I spend a lot of my time looking at ways to hustle money. I’ve looked at fast food franchises and real estate and catastrophe bonds and oyster farms. I follow a blog called “Unusual Investments.” My whole job came out of a side hustle doing merger arb. So I love the idea that a couple of dudes found an obscure govt website and started doing something that virtually any self-learner can do and made a ton of money doing it.

And it’s also super interesting because I know a real-life person who made their money that way, as a war dog. Not directly. But some random person I know married into a guy with a ton of money and it wasn’t clear how he got that money other than the fact that he sold ammo and well… War Dogs really cleared it all up. I always thought only defense contractors sold ammo to the government.

To all the grinders, stay grinding…

So what do we take away from these musings? I guess for now it’s 1) generate serendipity by getting better and more open with people, 2) work hard to avoid the mistakes that we’re cognizant off (staying one dimensional, getting bureaucratized) and 3) stay eyes wide open.

New tactics that I like –

“Thank you” when you want to end conversation with subord.

“We would welcome the opportunity to meet” as a way to try to meet someone but also you’re not begging for the opportunity but also you’re pretty polite.


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