Nov 7, 2019

Billionaire Ken Fisher's surprising client list

In this illustration, a businessman holds a long scroll list

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Public markets can feel simultaneously old-fashioned and incomprehensibly ultra-sophisticated when compared with the private-market world of pitches and storytelling.

The big picture: Inhuman algobots make billions trading on millisecond time horizons, while trillions of dollars are invested on the basis of archaic sales pitches.

Driving the news: The biggest surprise in the latest raft of headlines about sexist comments by 68-year-old billionaire fund manager Ken Fisher is the list of "smart money" institutions that invested hundreds of millions of dollars with him.

  • Before the latest scandal, Fisher managed some $11 billion on behalf of U.S. government pension plans, including $600 million of Michigan's state employees' money alone.
  • Fidelity Investments had $500 million with Fisher, and even Goldman Sachs gave him millions of dollars of its clients' money to manage.

Flashback: When we last checked in on Fisher in February, the old lion was roaring. He was managing $100 billion of other people's money, he was bringing in $1 billion a year, and defiantly refusing to be disrupted by glossy startups.

  • Reality check: Fisher almost certainly still has more than $100 billion under management, and still brings in more than $1 billion a year. As Fisher knows better than anybody, people generally massively overestimate the impact of short-term news on long-term performance.

Why it matters: All fund managers invest in marketing. What distinguishes Fisher, and what made him so successful, was the amount of effort he put into direct sales. It wasn't always pleasant being on the receiving end of those sales pitches, but they clearly worked. Fisher managed to reel in not only befuddled retirees, but monster pension funds.

Go deeper: The rockstar allure of private money

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