James Leo — Research Analyst
Polson, Montana is a special place for me. It was there, that I was first exposed to what it takes to run a business.
As a boy, I watched my uncle manage, build, and grow our family’s cattle ranch and I had the opportunity to work with him every summer. There was something amazing about working on thousands of acres of grazing land and tending to a herd of over of 3,500 cows. I was able to be outdoors, work with my hands, and contribute in a meaningful way. It was idyllic.
As I grew older, however, I got to know the ins and outs of the business. Running a ranch is an elaborate and stressful balancing act. Although often romanticized, succeeding in this business requires reacting to and overcoming setbacks that are often dictated by factors often beyond your control (usually in the face of complete mental and physical exhaustion). Weather, feed costs, commodity prices, and sometimes sheer bad luck… all of these factors impacted us every day.
The romance of being a cowboy was soon replaced with the reality of running a business. How was the operation affected by fluctuations in raw material costs? How could processes be made more efficient? Did changes in demand have a sustained or moderate impact on revenue? How were other ranches affected by the same trend? I was fascinated by the interconnectedness between the operating business and the broader market factors and I really loved breaking apart each piece and understanding how they fit together.
I knew that I needed more than just my keen curiosity to build a successful career, so I chose to broaden my experiences and learn about financial markets. I worked in a variety of roles in the electronic/high-frequency trading space in New York. The learning curve was steep; I was neck deep in the markets and things moved incredibly quickly. I also met an amazing assortment of extraordinary bright leaders in the technology space and I became interested in understanding the ever narrowing line between finance and technology.
I left the high-frequency trading space to join a fin-tech start up. There I lead the research team and structured the research processes for our financial technology platform. I watched the enterprise business grow from a concept on the back of a napkin to a business that now has over 700 clients. This role helped me hone my information aggregation and dissemination skills, and fueled my interest research and going deeper into company assessment. I set my sights on the Value Investing Program at Columbia Business School and graduated with an MBA in May 2015.
When I first walked through the doors at Daruma, I could tell that it was the perfect firm for me. From the culture and the incredible people that I get to interact with every day to the firm’s investment philosophy of concentrated holdings combined with a long-term investment horizon, I have the opportunity to do what I truly love – researching companies. Whether that means going on the road to research a company’s competitors, or taking an outside of the box approach to evaluating competitive dynamics in an industry, I am rolling up my sleeves and doing deep dives on companies and industries to truly understand each company’s opportunities and challenges.