Thank you for doing this with us! Our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?
Soon after college, I returned from the US to my home in Venezuela and began working at Banco Union. This is where my interest in finance took off. I began making my own investments, acquiring shares in two Venezuelan insurance companies, Seguros Qualitas and Proseguros. I was able to leverage these successful ventures to begin investing in the market for Venezuelan government public debt.
I have always enjoyed finance, in part because to be successful at it, you can never stop learning. The market is global and constantly changing, and I am more engaged and energized by it today than ever before.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I don’t consider this amusing, but it’s a lesson worth sharing. For several years, I have believed that cannabis would become legalized, destigmatized, and regulated. I saw the medical marijuana movement as the beginning of a bigger shift. So, I invested early and, as I often do, continued to make selective investments over the years, and it has worked out well so far.
Based on my research, this wasn’t likely to be just a fad — it reflected a fundamental shift. Since prohibition was repealed almost a century ago, the alcohol market in the US has grown steadily. And, although the product mix changes, the underlying market demand hasn’t. I see something similar happening with cannabis.
The market is already starting to take off and company valuations are beginning to reflect that. But we are still in the very early days, in my opinion. I greatly enjoy seeing social and cultural shifts like this that lead to long term investment opportunities.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the best parts about finding success in my career is that I now have the opportunity to give back.
In 2019, I helped launch the Diplomado de Cocina Creativa, a training program for aspiring chefs in the Dominican Republic hosted by the INFOTEP School of Hospitality, Gastronomy, and Pastry.
Over the course of three months, this program sent 20 young people, passionate about gastronomy, across the country to bolster their cooking skills and expand their knowledge. At the end, one exemplary student was chosen for a scholarship for a 5-week training course at the world-renowned Basque Culinary Center (BCC) in Spain.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 delayed the first winner, a 25 year old named Elvis, from being able to take advantage of his prize. We also had to wait before kicking off the program’s second year. But, I am happy to report that Elvis completed his training and that we recently kicked off the 2021 Diplomado de Cocina Creativa.
No matter the industry, be it finance, culinary arts, or any other trade, I believe it is critical to foster passion in, and broaden the horizons of, young people. It helps ensure that these trades not only survive, but thrive into the future.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers?
Have you ever gone to an event and received the advice “don’t discuss politics, religion, or money?” Somewhere along the line, people accepted the idea that discussing money could offend or lead to contention. And sure, maybe this helped prevent a few awkward conversations, but it also made it difficult for people to learn from each other.
This kind of thinking also contributed to the narrative that finances have to be complicated and nuanced. As such, many people don’t have the confidence to manage their own money. So, they hand it over to professionals and, knowing that it is in trusted hands, don’t feel the need to pay attention to or weigh in. While I believe it is smart to work with experts, I believe the client can and must stay involved and informed.
I enjoy mentoring young people not only about corporate finance, but personal finance, as well. I am happy to share what made me successful, how I think about investments, and what mistakes I have made that others can learn from.
If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
- Mandatory personal finance classes in high school. Too often, young people don’t have the tools they need to properly manage their money — let alone grow or invest it. When you compound this with the responsibility of securing and paying a student loan, college graduates too often enter the workforce with debts, and a mounting pressure to find a job that will make them the most money, rather than give them the most satisfaction. By offering a basic education in personal finance, high schools can help send their students off into the world on more solid footing.
- Make investing more accessible. Not everyone has the confidence to invest their own money, or the means to hire a financial advisor. But, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have an interest or ability. Luckily, personal finance and investment apps are helping to close this gap, but we still have a ways to go.
- Read the business section every day. It’s remarkable what you can learn from reading the Wall Street Journal, or the business section of the local paper. Even after a few weeks, you can increase your financial literacy significantly. Plus, I find it addictive…in the best way..
Ok, thank you! Now to the main question of our interview: You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Don’t trust the hype. Just because a stock is buzzy, doesn’t mean it will deliver. For example, plant-based meat sales surged during the pandemic, leading many to assume that Beyond Meats’ — a clear leader in the space — stock would take off. Instead, it has continued to underperform due to supply chain issues, margin challenges, and floundering new products. The warning signs have been there for months, so a savvy investor may have instead chosen to invest in more stable companies, like Tyson. There are also electric vehicle manufacturers right now with market capitalization greater than Ford or GM, but with only a handful of cars on the road. To me, that sounds more like gambling than investing.
- Success is not stationary. Just because you find financial success, doesn’t mean you’ll maintain it. Markets are volatile, trends change quickly, and relying on the same strategy won’t always net you results. You need to keep adapting. For example, owning stock in Apple isn’t the same as it was in the early days. Sure, you may see some steady gains, but the marketplace is different, there is more competition and consumer tastes are constantly evolving.
- Leave your emotions out of it. As I have said in the past, “in business, never fall in love.” Investment decisions should be governed first and foremost by data. Even after decades in finance, I would never make a significant investment without doing my own research. Sure, instinct has a role, but people should make a cold-eyed, rational decision before investing.
- “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.” TIme is a critical component to finding investment success. Even if you start with only a small investment, given the right interest rates and time, you can earn far more than someone who started later but invested more. Did you ever take an economics class that compared Jack and Jill? Let’s say Jill starts investing $100 a month, and yields an average return of 1% a month, compounded monthly over 40 years. Jack, who is the same age, doesn’t begin investing until 30 years later, and invests $1,000 a month for 10 years, also averaging 1% a month, compounded monthly. In the end, Jack will have roughly $230K, and Jill will have more than $1.1 million.
- Ask for help. Investing does not have to be a solo sport. Ask the opinions of those you trust — while knowing that, ultimately, the decisions are yours to make. For example, a mentee asked my opinion when meme stocks were taking off. She had never seen a surge that was so deeply connected to social media and wanted to discuss whether or not it seemed smart to dive in.
What are your thoughts about investing in cryptocurrency? Can you explain what you mean?
Cryptocurrency is an intriguing market for investors who have a high tolerance for risk. Cryptocurrency is extremely volatile, it has no inherent value and, while an increasing number of businesses are accepting crypto for payment, it’s unclear how long that will last and which currency will survive.
I personally will be more comfortable investing in crypto when we see greater government regulation — and that’s not always something I say. In this case, we need some rules of the road.
What are your thoughts about daytrading, using apps like Robinhood? Can you explain what you mean?
I am not a day trader. I do my homework, and buy and hold investments that have long term potential. Although I know day trading is very popular, and I try not to judge, patient investing has worked for me.
I applaud the apps for democratizing investing in the markets. But flipping stocks rarely leads to sustainable wealth creation.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been fortunate to have many great mentors throughout my career. But, if I had to pick one, it would be my father.
From a young age, my father not only taught me that I could do anything I put my mind to, he showed me.
He was a physician in Venezuela with a tremendous entrepreneurial drive. He started Policlinica Metropolitana, a private hospital in Caracas in the 1970s. Today, it is one of the most advanced healthcare provider organizations in Latin America.
I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up with this kind of role model. He instilled in me that there is no such thing as dreaming too big — even if it doesn’t seem feasible to other people — and that hard work can pay off. These lessons have served as the foundation for all of my professional pursuits, and they are continuing to propel me to success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I recently heard a quote from Barbara Corcoran that rings true time and time again: “You can’t fake passion.”
In my career I have worn many hats. But the ones that suited me best were not necessarily the most profitable, or even the most professional. Over the decades, I have found more success and fulfillment when I am working on something that I can sink my teeth into.
I think every aspect of business would be better and more fruitful if people followed their passions. However, not everyone can find or feed theirs in a traditional classroom setting. So, I would love to inspire a movement that encourages people — no matter the age — to supplement their formal education with curiosity. Try new things. Pursue a path less traveled. And, perhaps most importantly, get comfortable with failure.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you continued success!