Between founding a successful, multibillion-dollar hedge fund SkyBridge Capital, launching the influential SkyBrige Alternatives (SALT) Conference and co-hosting Fox News’s primetime show “Wall Street Week,” you might assume that successes come easy for Anthony Scaramucci.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth, he says. In his new book, “Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole,” Scaramucci describes his bumpy career path, and how he was able to transform setbacks into launching pads that propelled him forward.
We caught up with him to talk about overcoming failure, the secret to successful negotiations—and the best money advice he ever got.
Early in your career, you were fired from Goldman Sachs. How did you deal with, and ultimately overcome, that disappointment?
I was hired as an associate in investment banking in the real estate department in 1989, and was fired roughly a year and a half later. My boss told me they were downsizing because we were going into a recession. But honestly, I was terrible at the job. I didn’t have the technical skill set for corporate finance and spreadsheet analysis. On the surface, I accepted [the news], but internally I felt absolutely humiliated and like a failure.
My advice if you have been fired or are in a bad situation is to be as classy as possible. Don’t burn any bridges. The guy who fired me recognized that although I wasn’t good at the job, I was a hard worker. So when a position opened up in another area at Goldman, I was able to ask him to help me get the job.
I got rehired in the asset management area and became a financial advisor. I excelled in that environment and built a nice clientele, so when I eventually left, I was able to create a business off some of those clients and stand on my own.
Years later, SkyBridge Capital almost went under during the financial crisis. How did you mentally bounce back from the brink of failure again?
If you fall, you have to get up. If you’re worried about your social status or your perception in the business community, it is very hard to be an entrepreneur. I was able to expiate all of those things from my personality and accept that my business was likely to fail—which would be embarrassing and would certainly hurt my pocketbook and career. But once I mourned that, I suddenly became a clearer thinker and a much better risk taker.
At the time, many people told me to give up. But I decided to put another year or two into the business to see if I could turn it around—and by taking that approach, I was able to create opportunities to grow. The number one thing we did was start the SALT Conference, a business executive, political strategy conference. Most banks cancelled their conferences [because of the recession], which created a void in the marketplace that we were able to step into.
The second thing I did was go on TV to explain our business and promote our conference. That gave me some standing, so that when I entered into a bidding process with Citibank, the executives knew who I was, which made it easier for me to acquire [part of their] business. Because of the financial crisis, they had to sell business to pay back money they borrowed from the federal government. As a result, we went from $180 million under management to $12.3 billion, which is where we are today.
In your book, you talk about several negotiation approaches and theories. What’s one piece of advice you can share?
Fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Li Ka-shing, a property tycoon in Hong Kong and arguably one of the best negotiators. His message to me was to leave money on the table for my partners. When you are asking for the last nickel, you may get it, but it sets you up to be unhappy. It discourages partners from wanting to do business with you.
I do not accept the notion that negotiation is a zero-sum game and that you have to fight it out. You’re much better off trying to find a win-win, so that you can both go forward and have a healthier relationship and long-term success.
What are some of the best financial tips you’ve gleaned from your podcast, “The Motivation Inside”?
One guest on the show told me about a time he was speaking in front of a large crowd. Someone raised their hand and said, ‘You’ve worked with wealthy individuals your entire life, so what advice do you have for me as a wealthy individual?’ He looked at her and said: ‘Stay wealthy.’
It was brilliantly simple. Don’t chase a rainbow or a unicorn. You don’t need to be the person who got into Facebook at a $2 valuation, but you do need to have a consistent, well-rounded, asset-allocated discipline that will allow you to reach a steady goal, no matter what’s going on in the world.
I can tell you there is absolutely no holy grail. Some people are in search of the perfect money financial advisor, money manager or market timer. I don’t know anyone who has been able to find that. Get into the mental conditioning of not listening to the daily news cycle or the up-and-down political crises. For the best outcome, focus on a long-term plan.
What financial advice would you give people in their 20s and 30s?
Put aside 5-10 percent of your net take-home pay—even if it’s just $50 or $100—in a mutual fund, ETF or money market account that will grow month to month. Treat it like a cable or electric bill or car payment.
The only way you can control your financial destiny and create a path for financial independence is to be a saver. And to build a habit of saving, you need to think of savings as another expense on your income statement.
What’s the best financial advice you got, and who was it from?
I read something from the legendary investor Warren Buffett, who was paraphrasing Albert Einstein: ‘One of the miracles of mathematics is compound interest.’
To illustrate the unbelievable nature of compound interest and why you have to invest in things that will generate a return, I ask my clients this question: If I could give you $10,000 a day for 30 days or one penny that doubled every day for 30 days, which would you rather have? You discover that the $10,000 goes to $300,000, but the penny gets you $5.4 million.
What’s the biggest money mistake you’ve made?
This is embarrassing. I came out of school and was craving stock options in biotech. I had a company that was developing a drug to treat sepsis. They had promising results in stage 1 of FDA approval, and I bought a ton of call options. I was right, and my $5,000 investment went to $60,000 overnight.
That was bad because I got overconfident and started viewing myself as an expert in biotech, which of course I wasn’t. I took the $60,000 and bought more call options and rolled them into the phase 3 clinical trials, thinking they would get approval. They did not. Not only did I lose the money, but I had a margin call in my account and had to borrow money from a friend.
How about your best investment?
It’s cliché, but I genuinely believe that my smartest investment by far was in my education. I had to take on a lot of debt, but [after] growing up in a middle-class family, where neither of my parents went to college, it opened up a lot of potential and opportunity for me.