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The Alpha Masters: Unlocking the Genius of the World's Top Hedge Funds Hardcover – May 29 2012


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Amazon.com: 69 reviews
95 of 102 people found the following review helpful
Hype for Hedge Funds Aug. 6 2012
By auilachs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very odd book - only suitable for pop-culture enthusiasts. "Alpha" suggests risk adjusted returns to investors - not to their investment managers. However, the whole text is a glowing tribute to the wealthiest investment managers. The wealthiest managers are those who have raised the most assets from the public, but every study on the topic indicates that smaller funds are better for investors. Why does this matter? As the old saying goes, "where are the investors' yachts?" I have been reading financial publications from a full array of sources (everything from WSJ/ pop-culture texts to juried academic publications/PhD dissertations) for 28-years. "The Alpha Masters" really belongs at or near the bottom of the quality pile. The book is largely a snap-shot biography of the wealthiest hedge-fund managers, with no regard to their clients' results. The text includes a photo-insert of billionaire investment managers enjoying hobbies like playing chess, fishing, scuba-diving, and hiking around volcanos. Maneet's photo (she is the author) incorporates a plunging neckline, and her descriptions of her interviews read like Cosmo or Vogue ("...he was dressed in...", "...we had Diet Coke and turkey sandwiches...", "... the plush carpets..."). Many readers will also find the abundance of clichés more distracting than a sound bite from a professional athlete. She writes: "The journey is the process...and it often takes a good deal of back-and forth before decisions are finalized." Good job, Maneet! Way to give 110% for the team when everything was on the line! If you are a high-school student who needs to do a book report over a weekend, OR if you need to line a cat box/bird cage - this text would be an excellent choice for either task. If you are in the industry, or a potential hedge fund investor, you will be very disappointed by this book. That said, "The Alpha Masters" is probably the most intellectual effort CNBC's "Squawk Box" has ever attempted. Booyah - Maneet! Hopefully, you won't get busted by the SEC with Cramer and Maria B. As for how Maneet accessed such extraordinary opportunities - beginning as a teenager - well, I don't fully understand. However, I suspect that she might just know how to exploit "alternative assets" better than any of the managers she profiled. The afterword by the legendary Myron Scholes is hilarious. He notes that she misunderstands the word "alpha", and he writes "I don't know how she was able to assemble this amazing group (or even how she got me to write this afterword)..."
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
The Forward is Excellent, but ... June 19 2012
By Walter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had just finished Scwager's "Hedge Fund Market Wizards" and was really looking forward to a continuation of a well written, intellectually stimulating look into the Hedge Fund world. The forward to Alpha Masters is Excellent and I was energized, but I couldn't finish the first chapter, or any other one for that matter. Schwager and Ahuja set out on a common theme ... bring the manager's persona, his strategies and methodologies to the reader. Schwager succeeded and delivered a stimulating scene setting intro, incredible dialogue and high level summary of each manager. As far as Alpha Masters, I agree with some of the other comments: it is poorly written, superficial and disjointed in its analysis and full of metaphors and anecdotes that do not serve any purpose. The books shared at least one common "Master" and / or "Wizard". The level of insight delivered by Scwager was phenomenal, Alpha Masters fell flat.

So ... If you are looking for a book that is undersold and over delivers, I cannot recommend Alpha Masters. To add some context, I have spent the last 25 years of my career in the institutional capital markets. Others may enjoy it, but I wish I had read the reviews before I "one-clicked" Alpha Masters!
73 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Another Book Review from the Aleph Blog May 20 2012
By David Merkel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Would you like to understand the mindsets of a variety of successful hedge fund managers? This book will give that to you, but there is a catch: you will also learn how these managers developed, and this is a big plus.

Most of the managers went through rigorous experiences that made them far more effective at evaluating risk and return potentials. Have you been through anything similar to that? If not, you might read this very interesting set of accounts, but then realize that you don't have the personality/skills necessary to replicate what they have done. Don't feel bad, most people don't have that.

A large part of what makes hedge fund managers successful is their willingness to limit their activity to areas where they have genuine expertise. They gain insight beyond most into areas where they are experts in discerning value.

This book does not give you a formula for how to make money; instead, it gives you lessons in the characters of those that have made a lot of money for themselves and their clients. What are they like?

Among their many attributes, they are:

Driven/competitive -- though I have known my share of failures in investing that have that attribute.
Lifelong learners, like Buffett and Munger -- though I have known some really bright people who know a lot about investing/finance who add little to an investment process.
Opportunistic -- they recognize what their best opportunities are, and pursue them to the exclusion of others.
Focused -- they develop an edge, and try to be "best in class," whether in mathematics of the markets, understanding the legal rights of different types of securities, understanding industry dynamics, accounting nuances, etc.
Patient -- if opportunities are not promising, don't do much. It's like being an intelligent underwriter -- when your competitors are giving away the store, don't write business, spend time sharpening your skills. Study what could go wrong, and see if there is a way to take advantage of the situation.
Team-builders -- They develop talented teams/cultures and motivate them to excellence.
Sensible -- They know when to be doggedly persistent, and know when to admit defeat.

Now, no hedge fund manager has all of these, but the best have most of them.

Contents

The book covers nine managers/firms:

Ray Dalio -- Bridgewater
Pierre LaGrange & Tim Wong -- MAN Group / AHL
John Paulson -- Paulson & Co.
Marc Lasry and Sonia Gardner -- Avenue Capital Group
David Tepper -- Appaloosa Management
William A. Ackman -- Pershing Square Capital Management
Daniel Loeb -- Third Point
James Chanos -- Kynikos Associates LP
Boaz Weinstein, Saba Capital Management

About the Author

Her name is Maneet Ahuja, and is a producer for CNBC, specializing in covering hedge funds. That's how she gained the contacts in order to write the book. Business Insider did a profile on her, and you can find it here.

Quibbles

The book needs something to tie it together and give it depth, otherwise the book is only "Meet these nine nifty hedge fund managers that I have gotten to know." That's a serious deficiency; even a single chapter at the front or back would have enriched the book, making it more general and cohesive.

I also think there would have been better choices for those that wrote the foreword (Mohamed El-Erian) and the afterword (Myron Scholes). The former is an accomplished investor, but is not an expert on hedge funds. Myron Scholes is an accomplished academic, has worked for hedge funds, but is still not an expert on them.

Who would benefit from this book: If you want to learn about what type of people these nine hedge fund managers are, and read anecdotes about some of their best and worst trades, this would be a book you would enjoy.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The personalities behind top hedge funds July 5 2012
By Max v - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The Alpha Masters is a collection of eight bios on some of the most successful hedge fund managers in business today.

Managers reflect on their first brush with finance and the academic and professional careers that followed. We trace Ray Dalio's Bridgewater Associates from a humble start in a two bedroom apartment in 1974 to its current stronghold in Westport. The text is interspersed with candid passages from fund managers that detail career decisions and clue the reader into the thought process behind profitable trades. David Tepper recounts Boaz Weinstein's happenstance internship at Goldman Sachs. John Paulson discusses his $15b subprime trade. Daniel Loab explains his decision to go long in April 2009.

This is a quick read, not a reference. Activist, quantitative, risk arbitrage, global macro, distressed debt, short equity, derivatives: a diverse set of strategies. Reading this book is kind of like having a chat with some of the best fund managers of our era. Highly recommended.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Guys That Knock July 19 2012
By Mercenary Trader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who never watches CNBC, I have to start by saying - Maneet Ahuja is hot!

With 60+ Amazon reviews on trading and investing books from yours truly, this is the first to comment on an author's appearance.

But have you seen that dust-jacket photo? Wow.

This is both praise (of the approving male variety) and bemused tongue-in-cheek criticism. One would normally not expect a financial journalist to present herself in a low-cut cocktail dress and smoky eyeshadow, brow seductively raised, giving the camera a "come hither" look.

Okay fine, but does this have anything to do with the book? Indirectly, yes.

The Economist calls Alpha Masters "a homage to hedgies" and, after making reference to Ray Dalio's meditation habits, observes that "Ms. Ahuja seems to be in a trance herself, in thrall to the glamour of her subjects." There are hints of seduction here, if only of the power and success variety.

Besides the CNBC credentials, it is easy to see why these hard-to-access guys granted lengthy interviews in the sanctum of their private offices. (We know this because we are not-so-casually told as much.) Much of the narrative in Alpha Masters reads like a cross between press release and Hollywood screen play, with a dash of romance novel thrown in. Sex is the "primal driver" - to quote the Bill Ackman interview - and were I a bona-fide Alpha Master, I would be happy to have a pretty twenty-something painting my word portrait too.

Let it be said I snickered a lot - "fawning" is a fair descriptor of the prose in certain places - and found one or two sections downright appalling. The Paulson interview was sanitized to the point of uber-blandness; occasional large chunks were pure chronological filler; and what in the world was that horrible, non-sequitur post-script by Myron Scholes? It was as if they threw it in to say: "Hey look, we've got a Nobel Laureate up in here..."

Part of this criticism stems from the extremely tough benchmark Alpha Masters must be judged against. Jack Schwager's four-part "Market Wizards" series, and Steven Drobny's "Inside the House of Money" and "Invisible Hands," represent true excellence in trader interviewing. "More Money Than God," by Sebastian Mallaby, is also brilliant in the reverse-engineered methodology analysis of its subjects... and Alpha Masters does not hold a candle to these. There is, shall we say, a lack of penetrating insight - if you'll forgive the Freudian overtones - that permeates the book.

So what was good about Alpha Masters? Well, the back stories were quite entertaining, with genuine nuggets of wisdom here and there. I had always wanted to know more about the life and career origins of Ray Dalio, David Tepper, and Dan Loeb in particular.

For me, the takeaway was a more fully crystallized sense of the intense courage of conviction great hedge fund managers possess - not in a particular investment, but in the process itself, and the ability to consistently execute. There is a self-assuming boldness... it takes a certain deep-seated chutzpah, or testicular fortitude if you will, to say: "You know what? The way I see the world is right, and the way I operate is right; therefore, I will express my view in size." Running money is not for timid souls. One of the Alpha Masters keeps an anatomically explicit reminder of this truth on his desk.

(Females can have testicular fortitude too, by the way; it is the visceral essence of the expression, not the biology, that counts.)

As the book confirms, I believe this is one of the true separators between the mediocre, the good, and the great when it comes to money management: A deep, unshakeable confidence - preferably justified by talent, training, and experience - that you are born to play the game at its highest levels. Shrinking violets need not apply: All the warnings that markets are too hard, too competitive, too efficient etcetera, are for lesser mortals to heed.

After all, even if one fully embraces the weak form of efficient market theory, somebody has to be the mythical "smarter player" actively moving markets toward a more efficient configuration (and earning profits in the process).

There is an ancient joke regarding two economists walking down the street. One says "Look, a hundred dollar bill!" And the other says "Impossible - someone would have picked it up." Yet even for diehard EMHers, that "someone" has to logically exist - and would presumably run a hedge fund, as the compensation scheme is so hard to beat.

In season four of Breaking Bad, Walter White tells Skyler: "A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks."

To put it in similar terms, these are the guys that knock.

Confidence is no guarantee, of course. Misplaced confidence (aka hubris, foolishness, stupidity etc) is a recipe for disaster, as all too many failed practitioners learn the hard way.(Loeb underscores this point, equating faith in bad process to Russian Roulette. Paulson underscores it too, though not on purpose.)

And yet, dangers aside, a solid measure of testicular fortitude (again regardless of gender) simply must be present - or deliberately cultivated over time - for a legitimate shot at long-term market success. Call it a necessary, though not sufficient, condition.

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