Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
When Grant Engelbart was 13 years old, he invested in his first mutual fund. He’d saved up his Christmas money every year until he had $500 – the minimum needed to purchase the fund.
“I remember that distinctly,” Engelbart says, as he rattles off the fund’s ticker number. “I would check it every day in the newspaper.”
The fund was a collection of technology stocks, and unfortunately, Engelbart invested at the height of the tech bubble. “So I learned quickly about gaining and losing money,” he says.
Engelbart, a tall, skinny 28-year-old with an easy laugh, wanders through the game room section of mega-store Nebraska Furniture Mart. Set up with leather recliners, foosball tables and bar counters, the store display looks as comfortable as a home living room. “They make it a fun place to be and shop,” he says. “That’s what I remember about it as a kid.”
Looking back to his childhood, Engelbart recalls running through the aisles with his brother – checking out video games and trying out couches – while his parents shopped for deals and navigated the crowds of Berkshire Hathaway weekend. The store, which is owned by Warren Buffett, an early idol of Engelbart’s, draws thousands during the annual shareholder’s meeting. People come from around the world hoping to score a deal and, of course, catch a glimpse of Warren Buffett.
“It’s not because he’s rich that everyone wants to see him,” Engelbart says. “It’s his success in investing and how he built this – I think it’s really cool obviously.”
Engelbart first saw Buffett throwing a pitch at an Omaha Royals game (he still has the pendant), and it was Buffett who first got him thinking about investing. Today, Engelbart is a portfolio manager at CLS, and while he’s worked there for just six years, the passion for investing that drives him in his work has been part an integral of his life much longer.
In college, Engelbart started with his major in engineering but quickly made the switch to finance. This was due to the fact that he always knew he wanted to invest for his personal finances, but he hadn’t thought of managing investments for others as a career. “When I realized I could help others with investments,” he says, “a light went off – I was so much more attracted to that.” He took internships at TD Ameritrade as well as CLS and quickly developed a consuming passion for the markets. “I fell in love with watching the markets,” he says. “I started to transition away from the familiarity of being a normal kid – I had a computer screen and another TV set up in my dorm room with CNBC on and live stock prices.”
When the markets collapsed in 2008, Engelbart was entering his senior year in college. After class, he would trade ETFs or individual stocks in his TD Ameritrade account – buying Bank of America and Fannie Mae stocks at insanely low prices using grocery money from his parents. “It kept me skinny,” he says with a laugh. “The volatility was outrageous. But I was in it the whole time. I loved it.”
Although Engelbart invested only in small amounts and never struck it rich, he says the time he spent investing his own money on a daily basis was a significant learning experience. At CLS, Engelbart has moved on to managing millions of dollars for other people, but he watches it as closely as he would his own.
“The markets are different every day,” he says. “To keep up with the responsibility that comes along with monitoring that, it has to be a very large part of your life. You always want to know what’s going on. You don’t want to miss a beat.” Even when he’s on vacation, Engelbart says he rarely switches off. “It’s incredibly important to people – they would want whoever’s watching their money to have a ridiculous passion for the markets and to be watching their money all the time.”
“I was checking mutual funds in middle school,” he adds with a laugh, “so I don’t thinking checking a few stocks here and there on vacation is necessarily work.”
Engelbart says he wants to keep learning and progressing as a portfolio manager. Currently, he looks to Warren Buffett to frame at least part of his investment philosophy, which he defines as a combination of value, momentum, and one of Buffett’s foundational ideas – keeping investments tangible. “He’s investing in these companies,” Engelbart says, “but he’s really viewing them as companies, not just pieces of paper.”
The same approach applies to Englebart as he tries to keep in mind the individuals invested in each fund Engelbart manages. “It’s just such a tangible way to help people out. Even if they don’t thank me or even know who I am – to me, it’s plenty rewarding.”