My Journey as a Value Investor

by Tom Vilord

I started at a large Wall Street brokerage firm in 2000.  I was really excited to get into the business because I wanted to learn how to invest money like Warren Buffett, Ben Graham, as well as the other legendary investors on Wall Street.  I wanted to figure out what it was that they knew that the rest of us didn’t.  And why do some people have so much success investing in the stock market while most people fail.  A few months after I earned my licenses to become an advisor, I was sent to the World Trade Center for three action packed weeks of training.  This is it!  I thought this is where I was going to learn how to be a stock market genius.  It had to be, right?  That’s what I thought because after those three weeks were over, we were legit advisors managing real money.  We would be responsible for people’s retirements and lifetime savings, so I am certain they wouldn’t throw us to the wolves without the education to be able to do this.  Well, I was sooooo wrong.  The first two weeks were sales training sessions.  We were going to be SALESMEN.  WooHoo!  A few motivational speakers spoke in between the plethora of greasy sales trainers.  So, the last week of training consisted of NOTHING but proprietary product BS.  Which kind of made sense.  The first two weeks we became sales people, and the last week of training gave us something to sell.  Dean Witter would be rolling in his grave.  So after all of the licensing exams and three weeks of training, I still had no idea what the difference was between preferred stock and livestock (quote courtesy of Gordon Gekko).  In 2001 I started bringing in assets to manage, but I really didn’t know what I was doing.  I was never taught how to manage money.  This was a scary proposition for me, but think about how the client would feel if they knew I was clueless.  Shortly thereafter I received a referral, and this was a stock guy.  He loved reading about them, researching them, etc.  He would ask me questions on what stocks I was looking at, what my thoughts were about his, and what my market outlook was for the upcoming year.  All great questions that a client should ask.  But for me, they were the scariest questions I was ever asked.  Lastly, I had a client named Linda who was looking for an investment that paid a good dividend because she needed to supplement her social security and pension as she was recently retired.  I looked around and I found one that appeared to be a good idea.  It was a local company, the service they offered was unique, the bond yields were what she was looking for so we gave it a shot with just 5% of her total net worth.  To make a long story short, the company went bankrupt.  I got sued, and looking back on it, I was totally wrong in making that recommendation.  Had I knew how to analyze a business like I know now or if I just knew the basics of financial statements, I would have not touched that investment with a ten foot pole.  It was a very costly mistake for me.  I knew I needed to do something if I was going to stay in this business.  I started reading every book I could get my hands on.  Some were confusing, but I read them anyway.  In 2005 I attended a “Get Motivated” seminar.  Rudy Giuliani was a featured speaker along with Colin Powell, as well as motivational speakers, business coaches, a real estate expert, and my favorite, Phil Town, the stock market guru.  He gave the best presentation on how to be an investor.  I was really moved and exited after hearing him speak.  His book, Rule #1 came out shortly thereafter.  I read it cover to cover several times.  He was a Warren Buffett disciple and a true Value Investor (I didn’t know what that was until I read his book).  I started to apply what I learned from the book, and gained the confidence and knowledge that I needed to sound educated when talking to my clients.  The Value Investing Process also worked….very well!  I tried other investment strategies with marginal results, so I went back to “testing” the Value strategy.  After a while, it became clear to me that no other strategy would give me the success I was looking for more than the Value strategy.  After all, if its good enough for the best investor in the world, Warren Buffett, then its good enough for me.

I knew I wouldn’t gain all of the knowledge I needed from a few books, so I made it my lifelong journey up to this point to take every course I could find on Value Investing. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars doing so, but every course I take, I keep learning more and more.  The more I learn, the more money I make.  I still take these courses today and I will continue to do so until I retire.