Barry Ritholtz talks “Masters in Business” podcast
Well-known blogger and money manager Barry Ritholtz launched a podcast called “Masters in Business” one year ago for Bloomberg View.
Ritholtz joined Bloomberg View in November 2013 as a columnist covering finance, the economy, and the business world.
Before that, Ritholtz ran the closely followed finance blog, The Big Picture, where he still publishes multiple times each day. Ritholtz, who also works as a money manager and has been a professional market strategist, specializes in quantitative and behavioral analyses of markets and the economy and approaches both as a witty and iconoclastic contrarian.
Ritholtz has written on such topics as the psychology of investing and decision-making, Wall Street and banking, and fiscal and monetary policy. He was an early and prescient observer of the housing and financial crisis several years ago. His book, “Bailout Nation,” offers an incisive exploration of the roots of that crisis.
He is a frequent guest on television and radio and does so across Bloomberg’s various global media platforms.
Ritholtz spoke Monday afternoon about the “Masters in Business” podcast with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did you get the idea for the podcast?
When I was first invited to write for Bloomberg View, I got the tour of the facilities and saw the studios and equipment when I was walking around. I had been offered the opportunity to develop a show elsewhere or a continuing role on a show. To be blunt, I was never all that thrilled with financial television.
Visual things like film and sports work great for television. But to be blunt, finance, especially now that we have a million channels, has never been fantastic for television. If you go back, when it was just Louis Rukeyser and nothing else, it was rare enough that it was compelling. But there is so much financial news out today that it’s hard to compel people to watch for 45 minutes or an hour.
The elevator pitch was Charlie Rose meets Mark Maron’s WTF. I want to sit down with people who are intelligent and accomplished and find out how they became that way.
How does what you do on the podcast tie in with your writing for Bloomberg View?
By design the podcasts are evergreen. It doesn’t matter what is happening on Greece or Russia or what is happening with the Fed. For the most part these are supposed to stand the test of time. These are supposed to have some terrific staying power.
What sometimes happens is that they tie in indirectly to what I am writing because usually I am writing or thinking about a particular subject. For example, we had this discussion on why this fiduciary standard that applies to only a third of financial advisers should apply to everyone. And then I had Arthur Levitt on the show and asked him that question. You can do that sort of stuff that you can’t do in a shorter interview.
The columns open up the world about who would be a good person to share some insight and expertise on this sort of investing or policy analysis.
Bill Gross was a perfect example. We did a column on the bonuses on PIMCO, which turned out to be mind boggling. Gross’s was $300 million for a year. And that led to a correspondence back and forth with Bill Gross. So I said, “Hey listen, if the issue is false, I will retract it.”
But it started a whole conversation about his track record, which I then wrote about. And then I wrote a column when he resigned. And that led to him coming on the show and talking. The next thing I know Bill Gross is sitting in front of me, saying, “I got fired.”
Not every guest is a direct correlation with a column. I have done a number of pieces on hedge funds. So we have had some hedge fund managers come in like Jim Chanos and Leon Cooperman, who have had the same response to the fact that we have 10,000 hedge funds.
What are you trying to accomplish with the podcast?
If there is a motto, it is no stock picks, no forecasts. There is nothing else like that in finance.
It’s people who don’t normally do media and don’t feel the need to speak to the press because they don’t have to because they don’t want to guess where the Dow will be in the next year or provide stock picks.
I have been in finance for 20 years, so I have a fairly decent Rolodex. The first two dozen, I pulled in some favors with people who I was friends with. There’s probably 20 names we did interviews that we did were me begging for favors, saying, “Hey I have this new idea, trying this podcast.” Everybody was “Sure, happy to give this a try.”
At a certain point, it started to take on a life of its own. Maybe Bill Gross opened the floodgates. But before that we had Shelia Barr of the FDIC. I had known her for a couple of years and had been on a panel with her. And Arthur Levitt is well known among the folks at Bloomberg.
You talk with them for an hour, which is a long time. Why that length of time?
Some of these are an hour and a half, or two hours. Bill Gross was almost three hours. Really complex sophisticated financial subjects don’t lend themselves to black and white yes or no answers, which most of financial media does. There is a ton of nuance and shades of gray.
There’s a lot of deep philosophy involved that people don’t understand. Listen to how Michael Mauboussin talks about the difference between skill and luck. Leon Cooperman has a deep value philosophy that is based on a very specific approach to the world. Bob Schiller is another one. They all espouse a philosophy about how human beings behave in the world and what that means to the world of finance.
To get into the deep philosophy and how these people became the investors that they are requires a deep dive. When I go into the interview with prepared questions, I always feel like I am going to run out of questions, and most of the time I never get through them. When someone is one of the world’s greatest investors, and that is an accolade that gets tossed around too easily, but when someone is in the top one tenth of one percent, I would rather them teach me to fish. I want to know who were their mentors and what were their seminal moments. A lot of themes come up over and over again.
A lot of people whom I interviewed who are billionaires have said, “It helps to be really lucky.” Mark Cuban said it, and Howard Marks said it, and Leon Cooperman said it. They talk about the role of chance and serendipity.
What keeps me engaged and really listening is that these guys are the 1927 Yankees. These guys are fascinating and incredibly accomplished. My wife will tell you I am the world’s worst listener. But when you get a person who is a combination of intelligence and hard work and is willing to admit that they got lucky, that’s usually a pretty fascinating person.
What’s been your favorite interview or interviews?
They were all fantastic. A couple stand out for a few reasons. There wasn’t one where I didn’t learn anything. The Bill Gross one was amazing. Here is a guy who doesn’t talk about himself. To have him have a conversation was really an amazing thing.
Mark Cuban is hilarious. He is so much fun. He was in New York through an NBA meeting and I knew him through a mutual friend. And he could only do it at 7 at night. We went until like 9 something. If I had kept him until midnight, he would have stayed.
I always bring their book if they have one. I wanted to bring something for them to sign. On the HBO show “Entourage,” Mark Cuban is an investor in the tequila company Avion. So I had him sign the bottle. He said no one had ever asked him to sign a bottle. And it is sitting on my counter.
When people can talk as long as they want, people let their hair down. Cuban went off about the SEC. Why is the SEC wasting taxpayer money? You normally don’t hear that kind of unvarnished truth. We don’t edit stuff other than to pull out the occasional curse word.
The other one was Cliff Asness, partly because I was chasing him for so long. That was an amazing conversation. He’s not only a quant math wizard, he also can speak plain English. Cliff is incredibly articulate, but he also has this devilish sense of humor. It went for two hours, and the only reason it ended was that because both of our wives were there.
What’s been the toughest thing about doing this podcast in addition to your writing and investment business?
We do a ton of prep work. When I have a guy like Leon Cooperman, who is called the James Brown of finance, I have to be prepared. What am I going to do, come in and wing it? We do a deep dive research. We spend hours and hours prepping on.
We had a conversation with Anthony Scaramucci, who runs the SALT Conference and just brought back “Wall Street Week.” When he was at Goldman Sachs, he helped bring back Dell. I said that I heard that Goldman thought it was too small of a deal, and you called up Michael Dell and read him the riot act and got TIAA-CREF to invest in the company. And there’s this kind of pregnant pause where he says, “You guys do good research, don’t you?” He is used to guys doing the obvious questions. Not many people remember that Dell was almost a footnote in the early ’90s because of the billions their CFO lost currency trading. To me that’s a fascinating footnote that people don’t know.
I think that there’s real value in that, and that’s what I want to hear.
When do you sleep?
I’ve never used an alarm clock in my life. My body goes to sleep when it says I’m tired. I usually get up around 4:30 in the morning. And I am usually in bed by 10. But I love the HBO show “Ballers” and have been staying up late for that.
I get a solid six or seven hours a night. I would love to get eight hours, but my body doesn’t let me do that. It’s a function of really liking what you do.
What is your obsession with Ferraris?
It’s not just Ferraris; it’s any sculpture or piece of artwork. On Fridays on the blog, I will find some car on the blog and post some photos of it. They all have one thing in common in that they’re all spectacularly beautiful. Friday was was Lagonda LG 6 Rapide. That car is utterly spectacular. Not every old car grabs my eye. But when you see something like this from 1939, the lines of those fenders and wheel cover and grill, that’s just a rolling sculpture. Some of the most amazing cars were built in the 1940s and 1950s.
My mom will tell you the first word I ever spoke was car.
What is fascinating to me is the parallel between the cars and my interview subjects on the podcast. How many different disciplines come together to make something wonderful? With the cars, it’s design and metallurgy and mechanical engineering and aerodynamics. Same with these guests — they are investors who are also psychologists and historians and statisticians all rolled into one.
What is your goal for the show going forward?
There are a few white whales that I am chasing that I want to get onto the show. I attended Stony Brook, and I visited there in 1978 before I stared school. I met the head of the math department, Jim Simons. He looked like the typical academic with a beard. He ends up running Renaissance Technologies, which is the most successful hedge fund in history. He is now retired.
My other white whale is Ray Dalio of Bridgewater. I will hunt him down and bring him on the show.