Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
Aleck Liu first started thinking about investing when he was eight years old. His dad was building a house in the family’s backyard, and Liu liked the idea that his father had built something tangible. Something that would be there in the future — generating income or, if all else failed, providing a place to live. As he got older, Liu started thinking about how he might invest in his own future.
“At first, I thought it would be as hard as me going out physically and building a house,” Liu said. “But then I found out about stocks. The idea that I could sit behind a computer and click things instead was super enticing.”
Liu grew up in Temple City, California, a suburb of Los Angeles and an area with a diverse immigrant population that is majority Asian. For Liu, it was a fun place to live. There were good restaurants and plenty of things to do. But Liu didn’t get to spend much time hanging out. “I was essentially locked up studying,” he said. “When I could sneak in a video game, I did.”
Liu’s Chinese cultural experience was a traditional upbringing that emphasized hard work, respect for your elders, and doing your best. It wasn’t quite the strict discipline and pressure of the “Tiger Mom” of lore, Liu said, but at times it came close.
Liu’s parents had immigrated to the U.S. from China a few years after their first child, a daughter, was born. Liu’s father was in his 40s and a college professor, but China still had its one-child policy, and he and his wife wanted to try for a boy. Initially, Liu’s father planned to go to school in the U.S., but he soon discovered that would not be feasible. His English was passable, but he was not as fluent as he needed to be to graduate. So while Liu’s mother tutored Chinese, his father took a job as a furniture salesman and eventually worked his way to owning his own construction business.
Liu says watching his father grow his business inspired him to work hard and succeed. “He gave up everything to come over here when he was pretty much settled and had a good life,” Liu said. “So I bear in mind the sacrifice that he made. It’s been a pretty good motivator not to slack off.”
And slack off he hasn’t. After high school, Liu left California to attend the University of Chicago where he majored in political sciences with a minor in statistics. While he was at school, he worked as a strategic consultant and chief financial officer for two nonprofits in California, helping them increase revenue, organize their financials, and overhaul outdated operations. In Chicago, he launched a business delivering popular Taiwanese teas to a niche market: “Free deliveries . . . all the damn time” the company boasted. He also volunteered as treasurer for the University of Chicago Basketball League, where he secured funding for the league and created a new business plan to expand its financial base. And he worked as a senior advising consultant for a university group that helped local nonprofits create sustainable business practices. All while being a regular on the university dean’s list.
The main lesson he learned from his experiences: “How little I knew,” he said. Liu became focused on absorbing new information and experiences quickly and then building connections that would help him achieve his end goals. That approach helped him find his next position after he graduated. A friend gave him a rave review about a financial firm in Omaha, Nebraska: CLS Investments. When he met the CLS team, Liu said he knew he had “found a place where my passion would be nurtured.”
In June 2018, Liu took a position as a junior portfolio investment analyst at CLS. He initially worked under Josh Jenkins, who recently left the company for a leadership position at another investment firm. Jenkins quickly became a mentor, and the discipline he modeled mirrored what Liu had learned from his parents. “Josh got to the office at 5:50 every morning,” he said. “That alone is incredible discipline.” Liu said he knows Jenkins picked up a lot of his investing and personal philosophies from CLS’s Chief Investment Officer, Rusty Vanneman, so he hopes there will be a “grand master, master, student relationship going on.”
Liu enjoys his job, particularly the research aspect, and he wants to keep getting better and working his way up. He knows he needs to take in everything he can from CLS’s highly educated and motivated team, while applying the discipline and persistence he learned from his parents. It’s the same pressure to succeed that was ingrained in his upbringing, but now it has become his personal motivation. Liu is building his own house, investing in himself to secure the future he wants. And for him, that future means rising to the top to lead his own investment team one day.
“You have to be good at every step in your career to get to that stage,” he said. “And that’s where I want to be.”