Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
Joe Smith had two days to move across the country and settle in a new city. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburg on May 16 and started a new job at CLS in Omaha on May 18.
“I’m going at a million miles an hour,” he said recently by phone. “But I love it. It doesn’t feel like I ever get tired.”
Time management is something Smith is used to. “Growing up in a military family,” he said, “one of the things you learn pretty quickly is the value of time and of discipline.” Smith’s father served in the armed services for 15 years, moving his family around the country and world, from Colorado to Germany, back to Colorado, and then to Washington State. During that time, Smith says he was exposed to different types of people and cultures, an experience that instilled in him a broad-minded, global perspective – one he carries with him as an investor today.
After working in asset allocation research and later in ETF product development at Russell Investments in Seattle and San Francisco, Smith enrolled at Carnegie Mellon where he received his MBA. “I’m always trying to find new ways to continue learning,” he said. As part of a study-abroad program, Smith spent 40 days in nine European countries where he gained a fresh understanding of just how integrated the world has become. “I’ve come to appreciate how so many groups of people, from various cultures, all … influence the business world,” he said. “It’s a trend today, but a trend that will continue to expand on itself over the next 50 years.”
Maintaining that global understanding is critical to his industry, he said. “It puts investors in positions where they really have to not only understand what drives growth in one area over another, but how cultures, and different perspectives influence [growth].”
While he feels he’s found his calling, Smith didn’t always know he wanted to be an investor.
“You’re going to laugh at this,” he said, “but I originally wanted to be a chef.”
Cooking and trying new cuisines and recipes were early passions, but as he got older, Smith became more interested in finding financial security. His father had worked in cotton fields in North Carolina as a young man and joined the armed services as a means to move ahead. “Looking back,” Smith said, “the notion of financial security was probably less clear … and largely driven by just knowing what’s available.”
But when Smith was about 16 years old, he made a discovery that opened his mind to new possibilities: a film in which an investment banker, played by Whoopi Goldberg, disguises her identity to be taken seriously on Wall Street. “It was something that caught my attention,” Smith said, “thinking about a world that I didn’t know existed.”
His interest was solidified in college when he landed an internship with Russell Investments and worked with pioneers in the financial industry. “The people there and all the things I got exposed to,” he said, “had me sold on wanting to be in this business and be an investor.”
Smith’s experience there molded his current investment philosophy, which he says is not tied directly to how much return he can generate. “How you go about delivering success is being able to consistently manage risk in a portfolio,” he said. “To ensure the right outcome for the client down the road, you always need to have a clear understanding of the risks that can be known to you – and those unknown to you.”
“For many investors, myself included, we kind of get lost in the numbers,” he said. “We’re constantly looking at the world in terms of alpha, beta, and volatility – but from a people standpoint, when you hear the stories of what someone’s gone through – or what someone’s looking to accomplish in terms of their overall life goals – that’s what we really should target.”
Smith is particularly interested in new financial tools such as ETFs, which provide access and transparency to everyday investors, and that’s part of the reason he was drawn to CLS. After a summer internship in 2014, Smith was sold on the company’s mission of accessibility and transparency. “There are so many opportunities to build and maintain trust in this business,” he said, “so having the right perspective [is important], and always make sure you’re doing the right thing.”
“This job is more than a job – for me, it’s a coming home, coming back full circle from where I started,” he said. “And also, really having the opportunity to do what I love.”