The Derivative Thinker (Robert Wilson, Part II)
"The greatest pleasure and thrill of my life was making money in the market. A lot of people get the excitement in their lives from their relationships. I got mine in the market."
I enjoyed learning about Bob Wilson because his life posed key questions: how well do we know ourselves? Do we have the conviction to play our own game and bet on ourselves, even when others doubt us? Do we keep going if our partners abandon us?
Wilson lived life on his own terms and didn’t care for convention. He wore sandals to work and noted that First Boston, where he had been a trainee, had taught him nothing but how to dress properly.
He also carried an enormous chip on his shoulder. When Forbes interviewed him in 1979, he used Buffett as his benchmark: “I guess he's more successful than I am. He made his money when he was younger.” But unlike Buffett, Wilson did not have brilliant original investment ideas. Instead, he found a very different way to succeed which illustrated a key difference in style among players in the stock market.
Above all, Wilson was persistent and always retained his humor. When his clients abandoned his fund, he kept going. And after nearly blowing up with his short of Resorts International, he quipped that “sooner or later, everybody fucks up.” He didn’t let his setbacks cloud his judgment or turn him into a cynic. When America emerged from the economic malaise of the 1970s, he shifted away from short selling and bet on the new bull market. Let’s dig in.
Finding his formula. “I’m not interested in buying it if it can’t go down 30%.”
Going his own way. “The only office title I am interested in around here is millionaire.”
Omaha vs. New York: originals and derivatives. “The only way one makes money in the market is when the market’s perception of a stock changes.”
Keeping score and the most important thing in life. “I would be bored to death to live in Omaha or the Bahamas.”
He was very sensitive to its [the market’s] themes, its moods, its changing moods, its dreams and its fears. This was the very complex animal that fed Wilson, and … he developed every sensitivity he could, to extract as much treasure from the market as possible. – Wilson’s biographer Roemer McPhee
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